Gregg Bernstein’s sweep over Pat Jessamy for state’s attorney in the Maryland primaries is a warning for Gov. Martin O’Malley not to take the Black vote for granted, say many Baltimore politicians and political strategists.
They argue that Black voters will determine the outcome of the gubernatorial race, waving 2006 exit poll stats as proof. “Bob Ehrlich is not counting on the Black vote but O’Malley is completely dependent on it,” said Del. Jill P. Carter, D-41st. Records from the first O’Malley and Ehrlich standoff indicate the current governor won the Black vote 4-1.
“In the last 20 years, Maryland’s African Americans have played a factor in the outcome of who will be governor,” said Charles Robinson, political journalist for Maryland Public Television. “Large turnouts have continually favored Democrats and mediocre showings at the polls allowed for so called ‘conservative candidates’ to succeed.”
“You are going to see massive efforts from Black politicians and Black media to drive Black voters,” added Carter.
And that game has already begun.
O’Malley’s campaign ads are running consistently on minority-owned radio stations. He recently hosted a visit by President Barack Obama at Bowie State University, and he even released a radio spot mimicking autotune, a sound effect common in hip-hop songs.
Many community leaders are urging Black voters to ignore the gimmicks and make O’Malley earn their vote. “The question is do Black people know that we have the power and with this power, we don’t have to give our votes away for free,” the Rev. Heber Brown III blogged on his site, “Faith in Action,” last month. “We can make conditional demands on O’Malley in return for our support. If he won’t support our community goals than we don’t have to support him.”
According to some strategists, O’Malley has several reasons to be nervous about the upcoming election, just 20 days away.
The virtually unknown Bernstein crossed racial boundaries to unseat Jessamy, a Black Democrat who has served 15 years as the state’s head prosecutor. Pundit and radio host Catalina Byrd says Bernstein’s win may show political dissatisfaction among all races. “What I see more than a statement by Black voters from the low turnout is a … discontent with the status quo all across the board,” she said.
A mere 19.2 percent of registered voters came out for the Sept. 14 primaries. At one voting location in East Baltimore, only 19 people voted. And Black voters came out well below the city average, at an estimated 13 percent.
Black voter turnout appears to concern political candidates across the nation as we approach mid-terms, especially Democrats who are attempting to recreate the excitement from the 2008 elections, which brought record-number young people and minorities to election booths. “Bringing in a popular president, I believe ‘jacks up’ the traditional mobilizer, but the question is sustainability. Is it enough?” Robinson questioned.
Some say more Black voters will turn out for the general election, but must choose the “lesser of two evils.”
“In terms of either one generating enthusiasm in our community, people think it’s Tweedledee or Tweedledum,” said attorney A. Dwight Pettit.
“I just don’t think people are excited this time around,” said Angela Burneko, a voter from Baltimore. She did not get around to voting in the primaries. “I’m going to vote for O’Malley in the generals … but he could have done a lot more for Baltimore if he wanted to keep his job.”
A recent poll from Rasmussen shows O’Malley is up 8 percent in popularity, earning 49 percent of votes, while Ehrlich receives 41 percent.
Registered voter Garnett Green, 44, said as long as Blacks get the basics of what they want, they will vote for O’Malley. “Any Democrat is subject to taking us for granted because they know Black people will vote for them,” he said. “Even if it’s Pee-Wee Herman out there, we are going to vote Democrat because consider the alternative.”
Byrd says Black voters should ultimately come to a decision based on the issues. “People of color should look at the entire body of work of these candidates and vote for the one whose work most identifies with their goals for their community,” she said.
“Choosing to not vote is never an option for me, but voting because … other Black folks like them isn’t either.”
No matter who Black voters choose, strategists can’t deny that Maryland’s next governor depends on the Black community and whether or not they show up on Nov. 2.