Friday, November 09, 2001

Polarization affected council vote

Riots exacerbated an old problem

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If African-Americans had been the only ones to show up for Tuesday's election, the face of the new Cincinnati City Council would have been much different.

        Instead of the three black Democrats who were elected Tuesday, there might have been seven African-Americans on the nine-member council.

        White voters, if they had gone to the polls alone Tuesday, might have elected three African-Americans on their own — the only difference being that two of them would be Republicans.

        A ward-by-ward analysis of the voting in Tuesday's City Council election shows that voters of each race clearly favor candidates of the same race.

        “Voting along racial lines has been around for a long time,” said State Sen. Mark Mallory, a black Democrat. “Unfortunately, though, it's more prevalent now, after the riots in April. It's clear it polarized black and white voters to some extent.”

        Nowhere was it more obvious than in the mayor's race, where nearly 80 percent of voters from mostly white political wards voted for the white candidate, Charlie Luken. A corresponding number of voters from mostly black wards supported Courtis Fuller, who is African-American.

        In the 26-candidate council race there was a similar pattern, but more subtle.

        The top nine finishers in seven predominantly black wards — seven blacks, two whites — was vastly different from the group that was elected. There were four black Democrats (Alicia Reece, Minette Cooper, Paul Booth and Akiva Freeman); three black independents (Laketa Cole, Nathaniel Livingston and Clarence D. Williams III); and two white Democrats (David Pepper, who finished first citywide, and incumbent John Cranley).

        Voters from those wards gave the back of their hands to the two Republican incumbent council members: Pat DeWine finished 10th, while Chris Monzel finished 21st.

        In four nearly all-white, conservative, Republican-leaning, west-side wards — representing neighborhoods such as Westwood, Price Hill, Covedale and riverside communities — the story was much different.

        There, Mr. DeWine ran first, followed by Mr. Pepper. But only three blacks were selected by west-side voters — Ms. Reece and two Republicans, Todd Ward and Sam Malone, neither of whom won a seat Tuesday.

        The numbers also clearly revealed that there are times when Cincinnati voters will set aside racial considerations.

        Black Cincinnatians are more than willing to vote for white candidates if they are Democrats; while white voters will vote for blacks if they are Republicans.

        The strong showing Mr. Pepper and Mr. Cranley drew in predominantly black wards makes them heirs to a long tradition of white candidates who scored well among African-American voters — candidates such as David Mann, Todd Portune and Bobbie Sterne.

        Gene Beaupre, political science instructor at Xavier University, said that one reason blacks have supported white candidates in the past is that in most council elections, there have not been enough black candidates on the ballot for black voters to use all of their nine votes.

        “In the past, black voters just ran out of black candidates to vote for,” Mr. Beaupre said.

        That was most definitely not the case this time.

        Fifteen of the 26 candidates on the council ballot were African-Americans, five running without political party endorsements. In the city's Republican-leaning wards on both the west and east sides of town, many voters cast ballots for black Republicans, something they have been doing for 20 years, ever since former mayor and councilman J. Kenneth Blackwell became a Republican.

        Mr. Malone and Mr. Ward finished in the top nine in the west-side wards. In three heavily Republican east-side wards — Hyde Park, Mount Lookout and Mount Washington — Mr. Ward finished seventh and Mr. Malone finished 11th.

        “Republican voters in this town will always vote for a black candidate,” Mr. Mallory said, “as long as he is a Republican.”


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