In the extremely likely event that it has escaped your notice, the City of Baltimore holds an election tomorrow to select a mayor, a comptroller, a City Council President, and representatives to the council from 14 districts.
Really. Doubters take note: Public schools have closed to mark the day. In the minds of most Baltimoreans, of course, the real election occurred nearly two months ago, when both Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young trounced a handful of challengers in the Democratic Party primary, 12 of 14 incumbent council members retained their seats, and a City Hall-supported candidate won the 2nd District’s open spot on the council. (Democratic voters ixnayed only one incumbent: the 7th District’s residentially confused Belinda Conaway, choosing, instead, a Rawlings-Blake-endorsed candidate.)
Virtually undetected and certainly underreported, that same day, September 13, Republicans also chose candidates in their primary.
Tomorrow, in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than nine to one — 292,000 to 32,000 — the two parties face off in a general election that has elicited yawning indifference. The city’s Board of Elections predicts a paltry 12 percent voter participation, only slightly more than half the 23 percent who cast ballots in the historically low turnout in the recent primary.
Inevitably, no Republican candidate — for mayor, for City Council president, for eight council seats, for dog catcher — will win, continuing a nearly half-century-long exercise of GOP electoral futility. Consider these sobering statistics. In the primary, approximately 1800 Republicans voted, with Alfred V. Griffin III defeating Vicki Harding by a scant 26 votes — 908 to 882 — to snag the GOP mayoral nomination. Meanwhile, Rawlings-Blake racked up 38,000 votes. Looked at another way, the combined Republican vote for mayor fell short of the number received by hopelessly outdistanced fifth-place Democratic mayoral candidate Frank Conaway.
In tomorrow’s election, no Republican is considered a contender, serious or otherwise. Only two races (the 13th and the 7th councilmanic districts) have generated any heat — Democrat-versus-Democrat contests in which write-in candidates have mounted longshot challenges to primary winners. In the 13th, incumbent Warren Branch again squares off against Shannon Sneed, whom he eked by with a 43-vote margin in September. Somewhat more interestingly, in the 7th, an unblushing and unironic Belinda Conaway conducts an outsider’s fight-the-power write-in campaign against Nick Mosby.
All of which makes Victor Clark Jr., a 25-year veteran of the city’s Republican Central Committee — in essence, the GOP politburo — feel, in a word, “challenged.” According to the 66-year-old Clark, a small business program manager for the state, only a contorted harmonic convergence will allow a Republican to even enter into the electoral equation tomorrow. “In the districts with a Democrat, a write-in candidate, and a third-party candidate [Green Party, for example], the possibility is there with a low-voter turnout for the Republican,” he explains.
City residents have not elected a Republican mayor since 1963, when the enormously popular Theodore R. McKeldin returned to City Hall for one four-year term. Earlier, he’d served as Baltimore mayor from 1944 to 1948, followed by two terms as Maryland governor. A mere three Republicans preceded him as mayor, beginning with Alcaeus Hooper in 1895.
Since the 1950s, the city’s demographics have changed dramatically, with blacks, who traditionally vote for Democrats, now composing 64 percent of the population. In effect, Baltimore operates as a mono-party entity, resulting in what Clark terms “one-sided views with no alternative responses that capture African-American voters’ attention.” That accounts, in part, for Republicans’ habitually dismal showings. But he also faults his own party for repeatedly fielding “dull, inexperienced, and unimaginative candidates.” Add to that the GOP’s lack of “political club development (farm team) and, first and foremost, [African Americans’] sour taste toward the national leadership and politics in general.”
Some pundits have suggested that city Republicans might benefit from aligning municipal elections to coincide with those conducted statewide. Historically, the latter produce a more robust voter turnout, and, perhaps even more critically, such an arrangement would force city politicians to relinquish their current offices in order to seek a statewide post, a risk they are now not required to take.
Clark, however, pooh-poohs that notion. “If the registration numbers stay lopsided and ideas are stale,” he contends, “when the election occurs does not matter.”
For Baltimore City’s Republican Party to rise from its deathbed, Clark offers a more varied political-cocktail prescription: “Constantly present new ideas for the existing problems — persuade the electorate to your side with logical approaches. Concentrate on specific areas and marshal all available resources in that direction. One win is better than none.”