For 13 hours Tuesday, from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., Edward Slade will be cruising the streets in his silver Dodge Diplomat, swinging by church basements, fire stations and other polling places in this city's predominantly black neighborhoods.
His mission, says Slade, "is to see that we don't have anybody sneaking out on us."
Assuming that nobody does, Slade and others will divvy up more than $8,000 in cash to an army of more than 200 political workers at the end of the day.
The "flushers" who comb the streets looking for voters will get $25. The poll watchers who greet them and hand out leaflets will receive $40. The drivers who take them there will get $50.
This is the election day apparatus of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, one of the most effective political groups in Virginia. Along with similar groups in Tidewater and the "black belt" counties in rural Southside, Slade's "crusaders" are considered crucial to Democrat Richard J. Davis' chances of beating Republican Paul S. Trible Jr. for the U.S. Senate.
The significance of these operations was demonstrated dramatically last year when Democrat Charles S. Robb's gubernatorial campaign paid out an unprecedented $44,500 for poll workers in black precincts, about $34,000 of which was funneled through such groups as the Crusade and the Concerned Citizens of Norfolk. (The money was euphemistically listed on Robb's postelection spending reports as "voter contact.")
At least partly as a consequence, Robb reaped a windfall on election day. More than 197,000 blacks showed up at the polls in what is believed to be the highest proportional black turnout in Virginia history. Blacks accounted for 14 percent of the electorate and an estimated 96 percent of those votes went to the Democrat.
Robb, to be sure, benefited from a number of other factors -- the unpopularity of Ronald Reagan among blacks and the campaigning of black leaders. Davis should also gain from the same stances but his campaign won't ignore the black voter groups either. His campaign and the state Democratic Party have budgeted between $30,000 and $35,000 in preelection payouts to the black groups, an amount that is likely to be supplemented by some Democratic congressional and legislative candidates. "Hopefully, they'll be a comparable effort to last year's," says Davis campaign manager James Carville.
It is not an effort that everybody views kindly. Republicans--and some Democrats--decry the money distributed to the black groups as well as their tradition of paying workers, usually in cash and usually on election day. It is a practice known elsewhere under a variety of names--"street money" or "walking around money" are two of the most common -- and in some states, such as Maryland, has been outlawed.
"It's a form of bribery, a political payoff," says Calvin Smith, a black Republican Party official from Portsmouth and a former Democrat. "It corrupts a whole group of people by negating the value of the black vote. Because if you pay somebody to vote for you or work for you, then you don't have to do anything for them once you're elected. You don't owe them anything."
Most Democrats view the payouts in a less sinister light, calling them a "drop in the bucket" compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are spent on television and direct mail operations. Many acknowlege that, for the most part, neighborhood workers in other areas are volunteers.
"It's unfortunate that this tradition has existed," says state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the state's top-ranking black official. "It would be better if we could have volunteers, but if one person sees another getting paid, then he wants to get paid too . . . . "
"Whites go volunteer by the hour," says Evelyn Butts, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Norfolk. "We pay a stipend to a person to know he will be there . . . . But I'm tired of white people saying that black workers are paid. Who started the stipends anyway? It was the white man when he wanted black people to vote for them."
The payments may be doubly important to the Democrats this year because, unlike Robb's GOP opponent, Trible has not written off the black vote. Trible strategists have been buoyed by polls showing him receiving support from more than 10 percent of blacks, a strong showing for any Virginia Republican.
To achieve that percentage, however, Trible will have to buck the old-fashioned neighborhood politics of groups like the Crusade, a revered institution in the black community for more than 25 years. The group's planning began several weeks ago after the Crusade formally endorsed Davis and one of its leaders, William Thornton, a local podiatrist, began meeting with Davis campaign officials to hammer out a budget. Soon after, a storefront Crusade campaign headquarters was opened in a boarded-up neighborhood in Richmond's North End. Next, a mass mailing of "Dear Crusader" letters was sent to the homes of all 55,000 registered black voters in the city.
"YOUR VOTE IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE," read the letter. "We have an opportunity to show President Reagan and the Republicans that . . . we will not tolerate 20.2 percent black unemployment. WE MUST VOTE THE RASCALS OUT."
The flier has been supplemented at black churches where ushers have been passing out leaflets on Sundays. The key, however, comes Tuesday when more than 200 workers fan out across the city. Soundtrucks will roam the streets while 74 flushers--two for every black precinct -- go knocking on doors. If someone can't get to the polls, Crusade headquarters will be notified and one of 40 drivers on call will be dispatched. Once voters arrive at the polls, the poll workers will be waiting there with sample Crusade ballots and a short pitch on how to vote.
"It's sort of a selling job," says Slade, a soft-spoken, white-haired retired insurance adjuster. The 70-year-old Slade is a linchpin of the effort and is passionately dedicated to Davis' election. Trible, he notes voted against the Voting Rights Act and "if it hadn't been for the Voting Rights Act, we never would have had a black mayor in this city."
The real issue, though, is that Davis is the candidate of the Crusade and Trible isn't. "I never break ranks with the Crusade," he said. "What the Crusade does is in the best interest of black people."