O'Malley tone set stage for crossover

1 in 3 black voters embraced effort

whites also crossed racial lines

`Maturing of the . . . voter'

September 19, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Democratic mayoral candidate Martin O'Malley, whose strong showing in Tuesday's primary surprised even his most ardent supporters, gained one in three black votes and nine of every 10 white votes.

According to a Sun analysis of voting results, O'Malley ran 28 percentage points higher in such black neighborhoods as Walbrook Junction than former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is white, did in 1995 against Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. O'Malley also posted 25 percentage points more than Clarke did in liberal white neighborhoods such as Hamilton, which gave Schmoke one in three votes four years ago.

O'Malley picked up 53 percent of the vote citywide -- despite running against two veteran African-American politicians and 14 other candidates. Political experts say the tone of O'Malley's campaign, a series of key endorsements from black officials and his central promise to attack crime were embraced by the electorate.

"Black or white, people care about safety in their neighborhoods," said Cheryl Benton, who was campaign manager for Clarke's 1995 effort and for a brief time worked for Carl Stokes in this election. "Beyond crime, it was a desire for the status quo to go away."

One media decision is seen as broadening O'Malley's appeal.

Usually, candidates running in racially diverse cities target several sets of commercials and radio ads to appeal to African-American voters. Spots featuring locally prominent African-Americans were developed, but O'Malley insisted that his spots be run across all media markets.

"That is totally different than the modern-day political campaigns that are now run across the country," said David Dixon, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant who worked with O'Malley.

O'Malley acknowledged getting the idea from Tim Conway, husband of state Sen. Joan Carter Conway. O'Malley had several spots featuring Joan Carter Conway and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the House appropriations chairman. He also had commercials with state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

Tim Conway suggested that O'Malley run his wife's spots on WBAL-AM 1090 and use the Schaefer ads on traditional black radio such as WOLB.

"It wasn't as formulaic as most campaigns tend to be," O'Malley said. "It wasn't Mc-campaign."

Some consultants questioned the strategy, O'Malley said.

"I had one consultant come up to me and say `You shouldn't be running that Conway ad on WBAL,' " O'Malley said. "I said, `Oh, yeah, why not?' "

In addition to the ads, O'Malley aggressively campaigned in the city's black neighborhoods and churches, showing voters that he was comfortable in all sections of the city. O'Malley has represented the City Council's 3rd District in Northeast Baltimore, which is racially mixed.

Lenneal Henderson, a political science professor with the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Urban Policy, said that by campaigning in black neighborhoods, O'Malley helped ease the racial tensions that surrounded the 1995 campaign, in which residents cast ballots along racial lines.

"The only surprise for me was the margin in areas such as West Baltimore and Northwest Baltimore, because he didn't have as much organization," Henderson said of O'Malley. "He did some exceptionally vigorous campaigning there."

His work in black neighborhoods may have helped O'Malley in liberal white neighborhoods such as Hamilton. Four years ago, Clarke captured 67 percent of the neighborhood vote, while Schmoke took 30 percent. Last week, O'Malley captured 92 percent of the ballots.

The last polls conducted on the race a month ago showed Stokes gaining as much as one in four white votes. In the end, he gained one in 10.

Mary Koch, an 88-year-old grandmother in Locust Point, said she thought highly of Stokes but chose O'Malley for his pledge to make the city safer. "Crime is a big issue for me," said Koch, who is white. "This O'Malley kid is probably our best chance."

Henderson believed that many liberal whites abandoned Stokes in July after revelations that he falsely claimed he had earned an English degree from Loyola College.

Steven Shapiro, 47, a white East Baltimore resident, said the integrity issue played a role in his selection of O'Malley. "That was the key for me," Shapiro said.

The vote totals, however, showed that many white residents were willing to cross over to support black candidates.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, an African-American, won 57 percent of the total vote for City Council president.

In Hampden, Dixon won 52 percent of the vote, and 46 percent in Hamilton. When Schmoke ran in 1995, he won 6 percent in Hampden and 30 percent in Hamilton.

Donald F. Norris, a professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he reviewed voting records of city elections dating to 1987, when Schmoke was first elected mayor, and found that crossover votes were more the norm, in particular for African-Americans.

The exception was 1995, when Schmoke appealed to racial pride in his race against Clarke.

"Blacks cross over more than whites do," Norris said. "Whites haven't had to do that, and they're less likely to do so."

Yet Henderson said Tuesday's vote showed a change among city voters. "To me as an African-American," Henderson said, "it showed to me the maturing of the Baltimore voter."

O'Malley will face Republican mayoral nominee David F. Tufaro on Nov. 2. Dixon will face Republican Antonio Wade Campbell.

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