Don't write off Schmoke's and Curry's political futures yet

August 17, 1998|By Ron Walters

THE withdrawal of Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann from the gubernatorial race a week ago scuttles the attempt by political strategist Larry Gibson, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry to create a bargaining situation. But what will it mean for future attempts by black people to exercise real political power in Maryland?

Originally, Gibson & Co. had envisioned a lively competition for the black vote by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Ms. Rehrmann. Of course, the nature of the competition depended upon the success of the black politicos in wooing black voters from Mr. Glendening, an incumbent.

With the Rehrmann withdrawal, Gibson & Co. are left with no credible alternative candidate and some political pundits say that Mr. Schmoke's and Mr. Curry's chances for higher office have been damaged. But those pundits may be wrong.

Although Mr. Glendening may now be able to unite the dominant elements of his party, he still faces a tough race against Republican Ellen Sauerbrey in the general election in November.

Gibson and Co. tried to cast aspersions on Mr. Glendening's character and commitment as part of a threat to split the black vote for the primary election. If they had been successful in creating some doubt about him, this would have affected voter turnout for the general election, too.

Considering that, Mr. Glendening needs Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry because the addition of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the Glendening ticket as candidate for comptroller won't help bring out the black vote in November.

Schaefer legacy

When he was mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Schaefer was viewed as being good for the downtown business district, not the black neighborhoods -- a legacy that even Mr. Schmoke has not fully overcome.

Mr. Schaefer has always been a thorn in the side of Mr. Schmoke. If Mr. Schaefer is elected comptroller, he could work to thwart Mr. Schmoke's ambition for higher office. This drama surrounding the election threatens to affect black voter turnout and obscures the fact that there are other black candidates running for statewide office such as Democrat Joan Pratt and Republican Michael Steele, for the office of comptroller.

Since Mr. Schaefer filed for the office of comptroller, he has been considered almost a shoo-in by most observers. Thus, this prospect of low-level competition among two black candidates, however qualified, will probably not stimulate voter turnout on Election Day.

At least two black people have run for statewide office in Maryland, including Alan Keyes, a talk-show host and former ambassador. However, his two unsuccessful Senate campaigns were barely credible, drawing few votes from blacks or whites. In fact, Mr. Keyes received tepid support from his own party. His efforts shouldn't be viewed as harbingers of future campaigns by others. As the current race for comptroller and the Rehrmann pullout signify, the conditions have to be right.

Biracial coalition

With black people comprising a significant but not decisive proportion of the statewide electorate, the right biracial coalition has to be formed to elect a black candidate to statewide office. What will create such a coalition is an ideal situation where the political party leaders define the right issues, the right candidate and the right office.

As for other factors affecting voter turnout this year, there don't appear to be any burning local issues that would cause black voters to come out in large numbers. In such a situation, personality politics play a key role, but the personalities involved in this race, especially Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Curry, have confused and angered many local politicians committed to Mr. Glendening.

The depth of enmity between such factions could continue to divide, but I would guess that in the mobilization for the general election, a way will be found for Mr. Curry and Mr. Schmoke to work their way back into the Glendening camp, chastened but forgiven -- for the moment -- because they are needed for victory in November.

And then, of course, if they do play a positive role in the re-election campaign of Mr. Glendening -- and, if he wins -- they may yet have a future in statewide politics.

Ron Walters, Ph.D., is a professor of Afro-American studies, government and politics and a senior scholar in the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland College Park.

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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