Not black and white

The wise heads in Baltimore politics were sure of one thing about Gregg Bernstein's challenge to State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy: The contest ultimately wouldn't be decided by ideas or crime-fighting strategies or the candidates' qualifications, but by race.

Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway told a group of African-American ministers to warn their parishioners that Mr. Bernstein's candidacy amounted to the white community "trying to steal a seat from us." Anthony McCarthy, a radio host and one-time spokesman for former Mayor Sheila Dixon, concluded that the race had put Baltimore's African-American community into "protect Pat Jessamy mode" and that "an appeal to racial pride" was working. The NAACP and state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden held a demonstration when Mr. Bernstein used the example of the slain Dawson family, who were African-American, in an ad criticizing Ms. Jessamy's witness protection efforts, but they didn't object when he made similar claims about murdered witness Carl Lackl, who was white. Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke said Mr. Bernstein "doesn't seem to appreciate how different the African-American community perceives the criminal justice system from the white community."

Apparently the voters didn't get the memo. Precinct-level results analyzed by The Sun last week suggest that Mr. Bernstein, in defeating Ms. Jessamy, got substantial support from the black community, and that Ms. Jessamy did well in some white neighborhoods. Nobody conducted exit polling during the Democratic primary, so we can't know for sure how many voters crossed racial lines, but Mr. Bernstein won 27 predominantly African-American precincts and picked up substantial numbers of votes in others. Ms. Jessamy won eight predominantly white precincts, including some in heavily Jewish Park Heights. Certainly, the data indicate that Mr. Bernstein won the white vote and that Ms. Jessamy won the black vote — but by margins that suggest Baltimoreans had other issues on their minds.

This shouldn't be shocking. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin easily defeated former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is African-American, in Baltimore in the 2006 election. Gov. Martin O'Malley got 53 percent of the vote in his first run for mayor by winning substantial support from African-American precincts across the city.

Baltimore voters are sophisticated enough to see more than black and white when they go to the polls. It's time for the leaders of this city to give them a little more credit.

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