One of the drawbacks to living in Washington (aside from the country's highest murder rate) is having your city ignored the morning after an election. Then, when political analysts find great and lasting meaning everywhere else, Washington almost never gets mentioned. But no more. In a supposedly racially divided city, a reform candidate won the Democratic primary here for mayor.
So, as they used to say in the Army, listen up, America. A black woman named Sharon Pratt Dixon won in a rout. She did so in an upset. She did so on very little money and without what you could call a formidable organization. But she did so after taking a very firm position very early on: Mayor Marion Barry ought to go and city hall be given a thorough sweeping. She was the first to say so.
Sharon Pratt Dixon said this over and over. She said it at the same time that people were saying that Marion Barry, while not up for reelection, nevertheless had the most formidable political organization in history. She said it when people were saying that any black scoundrel who blamed his troubles on whites could get away with anything. She said it at the same time that lots of people were saying or implying that all someone has to do is yell "whitey" and blacks lose all reason, don't notice that their city government is a mess and that grown people are disappearing in potholes.
This, as they say on morning TV, is an event with national implications. It means, among other things, that Washington is not as racially divided as almost everyone thought and maybe -- just maybe -- some other cities aren't either. It means that some assumptions about blacks as well as whites have to be reexamined and that an endorsement from the so-called "white press" -- in this case The Washington Post -- is not the kiss of death one might have thought. In Washington, it may well have meant victory instead.
Look at Washington, America. This really has been an interesting election. Dixon not only won, but among the people she beat was Walter Fauntroy. The current nonvoting delegate to Congress is a pathetic case. Seeing he was losing the mayoralty primary, Fauntroy made an appeal to race. He called the then front-runner, John Ray, the "great white hope" of the city's real estate developers. For his troubles Fauntroy got only 7 percent of the vote. Goodbye, Walter.
A preliminary look at the voting statistics indicates something that might surprise many Americans: white and black wards were in general agreement. They wanted to throw the rascals out. In fact, the reform impulse was so strong that even Mayor Barry noticed it. He called the results an "anti-incumbent, good-guy, bad-guy vote." "Certainly," he said, "my case has been an example of what some people are very tired of and I think Sharon Pratt Dixon represented drastic change." Here was the mayor in a new role: speaking the truth.
Of course, Washington is still an American city and race still matters. David Clarke, the white city council chairmen, who ran for mayor, may have lost some endorsements on account of his race. He lost badly -- but then he lost badly in the white sections of town as well as black. The race for nonvoting delegate came down to a contest between two women -- one white, one black. The black woman won, even though she hadn't filed city tax returns in seven years. Maybe race was a factor there.
But what's most heartening about the primary results is that nowhere and in no contest did an appeal to race make a difference. In fact, candidates who got the endorsements of some of the city's more colorful and racially divisive figures seem not to have benefited. Some of these characters, the objects of great media attention who claimed followings in the millions, now seem to have political or personal organizations numbering somewhere around five or six -- less than that if it rains on Election Day.
If Dixon wins in the general election (Democrats don't lose here), she will become the first black woman mayor of a major American city. That, of course, will be news, and undoubtedly it will be mentioned on all the morning shows right after the election. But the "news" that's worth mentioning right now could be seen primary night on television. Behind every television reporter at every campaign headquarters was the usual mob of people. You could not help but notice. The white candidates had black supporters; the black candidates had white supporters.
That, America, is the news from here -- good news for a change. Thought you ought to know.