|Cynthia Carter of Ward 6 and and Classie Hoyle of Ward 3 both seek reelection to Annapolis City Council as alderwomen a phrasing we can all use thanks to legislation Hoyle sponsored.
Black Annapolitans strive to turn voting rights to political power
By Sandra Olivetti Martin
Annapolis lawns bloom with political signs. Red and white in Wards 2 and 4. Yellow and blue in Ward 3. Green and white in Ward 6. But the true colors of the citys fast-approaching primary election are black and white.
Voters on September 20 will find more African American candidates on the ballot than ever before. Among a primary field of 20 aldermanic and two mayoral candidates, eight are black. It is a bipartisan trend, albeit one that favors Democrats. Six African Americans are running as Democrats, all for city council. Two are running as Republicans, one for city council and one to lead the city as mayor.
Its historical to have this many at one time in city, said Carl Snowden, a special assistant to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens and a former alderman.
Historical, but not accidental. In a little-noticed drive with long-term implications, black Democrats and Republicans alike stepped up or were recruited ward by ward to commemorate a benchmark in African American history.
2005 is the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. If youre under that age, you wont remember the bitterness of the war for civil rights waged on American soil throughout the 1960s. So you may find it hard to imagine the impact of the victory when Congress and President Lyndon Johnson passed a federal law to end the right of states to restrict who could vote in elections.
In celebrating that victory after four decades, black Annapolis has seized the moment to build for the future.
Many people think the Voting Rights Act benefited only people in the deep South, Snowden says. They dont realize that the Voting Rights Act enabled there to be better and broader representation on the Annapolis City Council.
Snowden is talking practical politics, not philosophical abstraction, considering that blacks in Annapolis already wield significant power as a voting bloc.
In the last 5 mayoral elections, Snowden says, the size of the African American vote has been the determining factor in electing the mayor. In 2001, Ellen Moyer won in a majority of African American wards, beating Herb McMillan. With Dean Johnson and Al Hopkins, twice it was a major factor. Dick Hillman also won with African American support.
When African Americans vote in bloc, it has an impact on elections, Snowden says.
Black turnout in Annapolis is carefully orchestrated. Behind the scenes, political operatives and community activists have been at work to get out the vote Tuesday, from registering new voters to passing out campaign literature to organizing fleets to drive voters to the polls.
We are the main drive in black voter registration, says Curtis Spencer, community activist and founder of both the Annapolis Summer Basketball League and Friends of Black Annapolitans.
Im not saying that blacks dont encourage their children to vote, Spencer elaborated. But thats where our organization comes in. We educate and teach the importance of voting and the struggle our people went through to get that right.
Annapolitan African Americans also use their political power to assure proportional representation.
The Voting Rights Act went to work in Annapolis in 1984 in a lawsuit that forced the city to draw its wards to accurately reflect the population, which has been about one-third black over its three-century history.
Political districts are redrawn after every census. When redistricting was underway in 2001, the NAACP launched a campaign this time it didnt take a lawsuit to ensure redistricting matched the makeup of the community. Three majority African American wards 3, 4 and 6 were the result.
All eight of the city wards include a socio-economic range from million-dollar homes to public housing.
In each of the black-majority wards, its no surprise that African American candidates are running and have a strong chance to win. In the 1991 election, voters from three wards sent blacks to the council. This year, however, the African American community is joining forces to go over the top, seeking equal or even majority representation on the council.
In two dominantly black wards, popular incumbents are running with no Republican challengers and few of any other stripe.
Ward 3, the northwest section of the citys eight-piece pie, encompasses Parole and crosses West Street in the north. There, alderwoman Classie Hoyle, 69, is being challenged in the Democratic Party primary by Scott Bowling, a white candidate whose political experience was as a college Young Democrat.
Hoyle, a Parole-born educator with a Ph.d, sponsored legislation that allows her and her female colleagues to be called alderwomen rather than aldermen.
Ward 6, the citys southwestern slice, runs south of Spa Creek, crossing Hilltop Lane. Forest Drive is generally its western border and President Street its eastern. In the aldermanic contest here, incumbent Cynthia Carter, 66, a Democrat known for her bright African dresses and turbans, is running unopposed in the primary in her campaign for a third term. In the general election in November, she is being challenged by Julie Stankivic, an independent.
In the citys western section, Ward 4 runs from West Street across Forest Drive. Before redistricting, much of Ward 4 was the old Ward 5, represented by Alderman George Kelley, who is running in 2005 as a Republican candidate for mayor.
In Ward 4, Democratic newcomer Wayne Taylor, 47, a home-improvement contractor polished in the corporate world, where he worked for Toys R Us and John Hancock Financial Services, has no primary opposition. In this race, Republican primary voters also have a candidate on the ballot: Tyrone Furman.
Of the citys other five wards, two have no African American candidates. Those are wards 7 and 8, the citys southernmost wards, both in Eastport.
In the citys other three wards, races are wide open. In each of these wards, the African American candidates are electoral newcomers, but each represents a strong and separate segment of the community.
Ward 5 a rectangle at the citys lower west side that runs from Hilltop Lane on the east across Forest Drive is the simplest of the contests, with a single candidate for each party making voters choices easy.
Ward 5 is represented by David Cordle, a Republican running unopposed Tuesday as he seeks another term.
Here the African American recruit is James Turner, a 67-year-old Bates High School alumnus who retired from the military to work in the Department of Defense. Hes had a hand in city affairs on the annexation committee.
Ive managed and saved lots of money for the government. Now I want to give something back, Turner said, speaking recently to the Annapolis Democratic Club during candidates night at Asbury Methodist Church.
In Wards 1 and 2, competition is brisker, with opposition in both primary and general elections to replace alderwomen who are not running for reelection.
Ward 1 crosses West Street, running from the Naval Academy on the East through St. Johns College, Bloomsbury Square, the historic old city, across West Street to Silopanna Road. Alderwoman Louise Hammond is retiring after three terms.
Republican primary voters have a candidate in the ward, and Democratic voters have three from whom to choose. Here the African American is Alice O. Johnson, 56, a Democratic recruit who has honed her leadership in governance in the new Bloomsbury Square public housing community.
Ward 2, the citys northeastern slice, runs from West Annapolis across Rowe Boulevard through Admiral Heights to the north and Clay Street to the south to West Street. Alderwoman Sheila M. Tolliver is moving away at the end of her second term on the council.
In this wards primary, voters of both parties have choices: three Republicans and two Democrats are running in the primary, and each party has an African American on the ballot.
On the Democratic side is the well-known community activist Joseph Zastro Simms, 71, whos graduated from radical to grand old man in his 40 years on the streets. Simms is widely credited with joining forces with former mayor Pip Moyer to prevent rioting in the city after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Recruited on the Republican side is Robert Eades, 49, of the Clay Street neighborhood, an entrepreneur he owns a taxicab company and public housing activist so well known that he doesnt fade in Simms shadow.
Meanwhile, George Kelley, 48, is leaving the city council to run for mayor as a Republican after being persuaded by Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a golfing partner, to switch parties. As the only Republican seeking the office, he is certain to be on the November ballot trying to oust incumbent mayor Ellen Moyer, who is seeking a second term.
What will happen then, when a proven friend of the African American community, Moyer, faces an African American? Thats a story for another day.