Arundel's Wilson sees promise for minorities

First African-American to run for council in 20 years sees loss as win

September 13, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Terry Wilson - an African-American who was defeated in the primary election this week - isn't stewing over his loss. In fact, he is celebrating what votes he received and is offering encouragement to other would-be minority candidates.

"I can't remember the last time there was an African-American in a council race," said the Crownsville resident and retired county police officer.

He lost the Democratic nomination in District 4 to County Council Chairman Bill D. Burlison, an Odenton resident and former U.S. congressman.

"I took a chance. I stepped forward," Wilson said.

For that, Wilson is proud. But the result of his defeat - no minority representation on the council for at least another four years - has black leaders worried.

"I was watching that [Burlison-Wilson] race, and yes, it was disappointing that Terry lost," said Gerald Stansbury, president of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It shows the need to redraw the [councilmanic] lines. We need a candidate who will be more attuned to our needs."

That's the same pitch Stansbury and other black leaders made a year ago when they offered a plan to redraw councilmanic districts to include two minority districts. The idea was to expand the council from seven members to nine.

Given that the county's minority population has grown over the past decade - African-American residency increased from 50,525 in 1990 to 66,428 in 2000 - the plan made sense to many residents, yet it was rejected by county officials.

African-American residents account for about 14 percent of the county's population; racial minorities, including white Hispanics, represent 20 percent.

"If the council had passed a redistricting bill, it would have greatly improved our chances," said Carl O. Snowden, who serves on County Executive Janet S. Owens' administrative Cabinet.

Looking back, Wilson, 54, said that he might have fared better if more black voters had come out to the polls in District 4, an area that includes Fort Meade and Odenton, neighborhoods with a high concentration of black residents.

In an effort to help Wilson and other minority candidates, including those who ran successfully for seats on the Orphans' Court and Democratic Central Committee, NAACP officials held an election rally and candidates forum in Annapolis recently.

Stansbury said that minority voters often don't realize the importance of a primary election. That may have hurt Wilson, he said.

"We've got to do more to encourage African-Americans to vote," Stansbury said.

Burlison will face Republican Michael Malone in the Nov. 5 general election.

"I was disappointed, sure," Wilson said. "We won in a sense, because it was the first time in 20 years that a person of color had even tried to get on the council."

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