Racial politics and the D.C. primary elections

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's not all about the "racial divide," folks.

In last week's D.C. Democratic primary, voters in Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8 went for mayoral candidate Vincent Gray in a big way. That victory prompted some to suggest that racial politics was at play: that black people were rejecting Mayor Adrian Fenty because they feared he was favoring more affluent white residents. Anti-white rage, I submit, was not the issue.

Those largely black wards weren't voting race. Those same voters who turned thumbs down on Fenty went thumbs way up for the reelection bid of a white candidate, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson.

True, the polls and vote patterns point to obvious racial differences in the city. But those differences are based on each group's economic standing and their experience with Fenty and his handpicked schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. It was his -- and her -- perceived arrogance and indifference toward the black community that did them in; it wasn't the support that they enjoyed in the city's predominantly white wards. The numbers put to rest any concern about a racist vote.

Ward 8, which is east of the Anacostia River and is Marion Barry's home base, gave Fenty only 1,800 votes. More than 5,000 votes there went to Mendelson.

Ward 7 voters, also on the east side of town, did the same with their ballots: 2,500 for Fenty, nearly 8,500 for Mendelson.

Mendelson came out of Ward 5 with 9,500 votes; Fenty mustered only 4,030.

And Ward 4, which launched Fenty's political career, awarded him just 8,000 votes this time around. It sent Mendelson to bed on election night with more than 12,300 votes in the bag.

The day's top vote-getter, with 106,500 votes, was, to no surprise, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. An excellent record of service and nominal opposition virtually guaranteed that outcome.

But among mayoral and council candidates, the person pulling the most votes citywide was Mendelson, with 71,704. Gray came in second with 66,526. Fenty, with 54,424 votes, registered fourth behind Kwame Brown, who garnered 62,837 in his winning bid for the council chairman slot.

People pontificating about race in this city, based on parachute jumps into black neighborhoods where they conduct two or three interviews and then scoot back to file reports on what black folks are up to, don't know what they are talking about.

Let me tell you a story.

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