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Baltimore’s black voters can’t afford to be divided this mayoral election | COMMENTARY

Raul Sotez (left) of Interstate Van Lines rolls a ballot drop box into place at Mount Pleasant Church on Radecke Avenue as Jesse Thompson look on. This is one of five drop box locations for the upcoming primary election.
Raul Sotez (left) of Interstate Van Lines rolls a ballot drop box into place at Mount Pleasant Church on Radecke Avenue as Jesse Thompson look on. This is one of five drop box locations for the upcoming primary election. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore is home to legendary myths. None is greater than the one that’s often told about the 1999 Baltimore mayoral election. The myth is that Martin O’Malley won the election because he was able to split the black vote.

That’s simply not true. When the dust settled at the board of elections, Mr. O’Malley had more votes than both his two African American opponents combined.

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In this current election for mayor I can’t help but consider what the influence of the African American vote may or may not be this election cycle given that there are more than four black candidates in the race. The landscape is also much different than it was 20 years ago. Baltimore’s population has decreased, and the voting pool has diminished considerably in the African American community. Meanwhile, the number of progressive-minded white people have moved into the city.

The hard truth is that this race exposes a divide in the black vote, while also demonstrating the historical political strategy of white power brokers in this city. As in past elections I don’t sense any divide among white voters in the city.

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For the past 12 months candidates have been on the political stump expressing their desire to serve the city. For many of the black candidates this level of community outreach means hitting the streets and knocking on doors — old school grassroots campaigning. This type of involvement ought to be a requirement for anybody running for office. Unfortunately, the primary prerequisite in the absence of community recognition is financial resources. Many black candidates don’t have personal wealth.

Oddly, I have come to believe that many African Americans seeking the job ultimately commit to running in the final analysis because it’s a job. A job with a decent salary. A job with a little influence to secure income for friends and family. Which may explain why after decades of African American leadership the conditions of black people in this city in many cases have gotten worse. The power brokers and growing middle class are those who make a living dealing with the tragedy and devastation in the black community. Academicians study it, philanthropist fund it and politicians exploit it. And it doesn’t get better for the people suffering.

In Old Testament 1 Kings of the bible is the story of two prostitutes in dispute over who was the actual mother of a certain child. In an attempt to bring the dispute to an end the judge offers to cut the child in half, so that everyone would have a piece of the child. In response to the judge’s decision, the one who was not the mother agreed to cut the child in half. But the actual mother of the child, in a selfless act, knew it was more important to save the child so she agreed to give it to the one who was not the mother. The judge knew then who was the real mother.

I raise this biblical example to express my concern about the large number of African Americans in the race for mayor. I only wish a few of the African American candidates in this race cared enough a few months ago to save the opportunity at political power for a community desperately in need of it. Regrettably our community lacks the necessary political savvy to make the prudent decision to ultimately benefit the greater community.

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The message is clear: Black Baltimore you cannot afford to be divided. If our votes are spread out thinly then we lose and won’t get a mayor that represents our best interests.

In short, on June 3, we will effectively witness the destruction of a community of children yet unborn due to the selfish acts of a few. We must do better as a black community. We must find a more effective process of vetting candidates that will best represent our interests. Together we stand, divided we fall. We must remember that a divided vote is not the same as a split vote.

Kevin Slayton (Revkevinslayton@gmail.com) is a pastor Lanham United Methodist Church in Baltimore.

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