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Baltimore Glimpses: the first time the black vote felt its strength


THERE IS a West North Avenue and an East North Avenue. There is a York Road, an Old York Road and New York Road. There is a Horseradish Court (for Tulkoff Horseradish) and a Hendler Lane (after the ice cream). In South Baltimore there is a West Street and an East West Street. Then there's Belair Road (one word in the city) but Bel Air Road (the same road, but two words in Baltimore County).

Baltimore -- go figure the place.

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Back in the 1950s and 1960s there were few places in America where legal slot machines paid off in real cash. One was the four-county area of Southern Maryland -- Anne Arundel, Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert. The focus was a 15-mile stretch or road between Waldorf and the Governor Nice Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River.

It was here, 50 minutes away down Highway 301, that Baltimore's gamblers were drawn, dreaming the innocent's dream of hitting the jackpot in any of the joints. "Joints" is what they were, too, more than 200 of them along that stretch, grimy little roadhouses, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, filling stations.

Cash-yielding slots in Maryland were eventually declared illegal. But yesterday's Waldorf-bound gamblers enjoyed an edge over today's Atlantic City-bound gamblers. Atlantic City is (according to AAA) three hours away; Waldorf was less than an hour. Suckers got to part with their money about two hours sooner.

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Credit for the black community's sweep in the recent election is being given, variously, to Larry Gibson, to fine weather, to The Sun (for firing up the Schmoke camp with an endorsement of Mary Pat Clarke), to the pollsters who predicted a close race.

You can make the case for any of these arguments, but in Glimpses' view, the victors owe a debt to Joseph C. Howard. Judge Howard's campaign for election to the Supreme Bench in 1968 set the stage for the black community's election sweep in 1995.

As far back as 1890

Judge Howard was not the first African American elected in Baltimore. Blacks had won significant victories, but on narrower turf: Harry A. Cole (Maryland Senate), Truly Hatchett (House of Delegates); E. Everette Lane (People's Court); Harry S. Cummings (City Council -- as far back as 1890).

But the first black to put together a campaign strong enough to win city-wide office was Joseph Howard. In the 1968 election of judges for the Supreme Bench, he took on the all-white political and civic establishment, the all-white City Bar Association, the all-white entrenched city judges.

Mr. Howard would discover that "being first" would not be easy.

Candidates for judge run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. The five candidates included three sitting judges: Robert H. Hammerman, Thomas J. Kenney and Edwin J. Wolf. Challenging them were State Sen. Paul A. Dorf and Mr. Howard, a former assistant state's attorney. Both challengers survived the primary. In the November general election, they faced Judges Hammerman and Kenney, with one to be eliminated.

Judge Hammerman was considered a shoo-in, and Judge Kenney a strong candidate. Senator Dorf was expected to draw the Jewish vote and the machine vote to be delivered by his father-in-law, James H. ("Jack") Pollack. Mr. Howard had the hardest fight: To win he needed the solid backing of the black community and a considerable number of white votes.

All four candidates sought the endorsement of the Baltimore Bar Association, a recommendation many thought was tantamount to election. Mr. Howard's prospects worsened when the association endorsed only Judges Hammerman and Kenney. Fighting back, Mr. Howard invited his opponents to a four-way television debate.

But the controversy was too hot for the television stations. All turned him down.

Judge Howard then petitioned the bar association to hold a referendum of its members, but here, too, he ran into a stone wall: the association refused. It maintained that the petition was invalid. The entire matter would be left to the voters.

Of the campaign itself, Marshall A. Levin, former Supreme Bench judge and presently designated Circuit Court judge, recalls: "Judge Howard was able to bring out the black vote for the very first time and make it count in a decisive way. It had never happened before."

Judge Howard won handily, drawing the most votes (114,253) of any candidate. Judge Hammerman got 106,413 votes, Senator Dorf, 105,456. Judge Kenney got the boot.

Judge Howard served on the Supreme Bench until 1979 when he was named by President Carter to the U.S. District Court, where he serves now in senior status.

Mayor Schmoke, Lawrence A. Bell III and Joan Pratt, in their victory celebrations, recognized their debt to the many who made it all possible. I know they will accept my suggestion to include Judge Joseph C. Howard -- who paved the way.

Gilbert Sandler writes from, and about, Baltimore.

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