Lordy, Lordy, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley wasn't that bad a mayor of Baltimore, was he?
You'd think so if you read attorney Warren Brown's now controversial letter to black Baltimore mayoral candidates last week. Brown sent the letter to current Mayor Sheila Dixon and several other black candidates who have announced they will run against her in this year's election.
"Surely you must recognize," the never-bashful defense attorney wrote, "that with five Blacks pursuing this office, a member of the (white) community will certainly, once again, serve as Mayor of this City."
Baltimore, which has had a black majority for quite a spell, has had only two black mayors. Only one of them was elected. The late former Mayor Clarence Du Burns was City Council president and took over the mayor's post after former Mayor William Donald Schaefer became governor. In 1987 Kurt Schmoke, then state's attorney, defeated Burns to become the city's second black mayor and first elected black mayor.
"I think it's good for someone from the majority community to lead that community," Brown said in a telephone interview yesterday. O'Malley clearly isn't from Baltimore's "majority community," but he got elected mayor twice with a majority of black votes. Black folks went to the polls in the gubernatorial election to support him for governor too. And no, Brown doesn't feel O'Malley's mayoral tenure was all bad.
"O'Malley put the city on a good track in terms of redevelopment and the well-being of the well off," Brown said. But Brown repeated his criticism of O'Malley's crime strategy of arresting people for minor crimes, which Brown called "illegal" arrests. Brown also knocked O'Malley's record on the school drop-out rate, poor educational facilities and Baltimore's number of homicides.
No fan of O'Malley as mayor, this guy Brown. An objective look suggests that O'Malley was not as great a mayor as he and his supporters say he was and not nearly as bad a mayor as his detractors suggest. But for Brown, his letter wasn't as much about O'Malley as it is about whom blacks elect when they're the majority.
And whom whites elect when they are.
Chide Brown for appealing to racist sentiments if you feel so inclined. The truth is the man has forced us to confront some truths we may not want to confront, as Brown did yesterday in his telephone interview.
"White folks are gonna vote for white folks," Brown said. "That's just how it's been. Show me the last time you had a black and a white running head-to-head and the white community not supporting the white candidate en masse."
Some could point to Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett being elected the first county executive in that jurisdiction's history as an example, but I get the hunch Brown is talking about something closer to home and Maryland's statewide offices. How many black mayors did Baltimore elect when the city was predominantly white?
Uh, that would be zero.
How many black U.S. senators has Maryland elected?
Darn the luck, that would be zero again.
How many black state comptrollers have Maryland voters elected?
Uh, that would be ... well shoot, don't you just hate people like Warren Brown?
"I'm not a racist," Brown emphasized. "My office manager is a white woman. I could have said I was just going to give that job to a black person, but I needed somebody's who's gonna run my office and do it well."
Brown doesn't deny that a white person could "get the job done" as mayor. He just said that, in his view, no white mayor has done the job yet.
"Here it is 2007, and the issues that most impact the black community are unaddressed," Brown said. Education was an issue Brown emphasized repeatedly in his telephone interview. He chided previous mayors for "indifference" about education, pointing to their choice to have their children not attend Baltimore public schools. And he didn't spare the black mayors criticism either.
"I can't remember the last time a mayor sent his children to (Baltimore's) school system," Brown said. This is a man who clearly feels that a mayor with children in Baltimore's public schools has a dog in the education fight. But there's no guarantee that a black mayor will send his or her children to Baltimore's public schools either.
Brown still thinks it's important for Baltimore's next mayor to be black, for yet another reason: the self-esteem of young black Baltimoreans.
Another white mayor, Brown contends, might cause young blacks to have doubts about the capability of older blacks to lead.
"It's a psychological issue that's very important," Brown said.
But not important enough to those blacks who have announced their candidacy, Brown feels.
"I don't have any great expectations that those guys will put aside their egos and do what is best for the black community," Brown said.