Martin O'Malley is fond of saying his campaign is proof that the
days of racial politics here are fading. After all, the Irish-
American mayoral hopeful won the Democratic primary in this
predominantly African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic city
with 53 percent of the vote.
Gone are the days of 1995, when Mayor Kurt Schmoke won reelection
using a bumper sticker with the African nationalist colors that
read: "Schmoke makes us proud."
As voters in cities and towns across America head to the polls
today, mayoral elections here and elsewhere will help define how big
of a role race now plays in local politics. And increasingly, say
experts, the rules have changed.
To be sure, race is still a factor, but black candidates can no
longer depend on the solidarity of ethnicity to get in office.
Cities where minority voters make up the majority, such as Oakland,
Calif., and Gary, Ind., have elected a new breed of white mayors who
promise to deliver services faster and cheaper.
"[African-Americans] want to have their lives free of
discrimination and racism, but they want the services delivered that
suburbanites takes for granted," says Keith Reeves, a political
scientist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
As a result, the overall culture of elections is revolving around
mayors who function like municipal managers, focusing more on
efficiency than ideology.
Jerry Brown, for instance, touted his experience as governor of
California in his campaign in Oakland. Meanwhile, the steel town of
Gary - one of two cities to elect the nation's first black mayor in
1967 - has turned to white Mayor Scott King to help draw new
"[It's] a political gold mine," says Claudine Gay, a political
scientist at Stanford University in California, of the emerging
And the efficiency message resonates whether the candidate is
black or white. Washington's new mayor, Anthony Williams, got
elected on the promise to clean up the city's notoriously
inefficient bureaucracy. Black moderates such as Dennis Archer in
Detroit and Michael White in Cleveland are in the mayor's office
because they focused mostly on the business of delivering goods and
services, says Professor Reeves.
In this year's election, meanwhile, the power of practical
politics is threatening to unhinge traditional party lines in
Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 4 to 1.
Sam Katz, a white Republican, is in a tough battle with Democrat
John Street, an African-American. While Mr. Street was relying on
African-American allegiances, Reeves says, Mr. …