Unjustifiable Use of the Race Card: the Last Refuge of Failed Incumbent Patricia Jessamy

–Richard E. Vatz

I have been following and have written in Red Maryland (and done some “expert” media commentary) on the Patricia Jessamy –Gregg Bernstein contest for City State’s Attorney. Although I have been convinced that on the evidence Gregg Bernstein deserves to win the primary, I never would have expected the nasty racial turn the election has taken.

In a revealing article in today’s Baltimore Sun, reporter Justin Fenton writes of the racial tension created by Mrs. Jessamy’s claim that the election of Mr. Bernstein would “set us back 60 years.”

When I first heard this remark, I was willing to infer that there was no direct racial implication, naïve as that may make me. However, reading through Mr. Fenton’s piece, any disinterested observer would have to conclude that this is a purposeful effort to say, “I am African-American, and my opponent is white. Q.E.D.”

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Warren Brown, an African-American supporter of Mr. Bernstein, says the remark is “reprehensible.”

The article quotes Mrs. Jessamy, when she was asked on radio station WOLB whether race was a factor in Mr. Bernstein’s running for this office, as saying, “I’m hopeful that has nothing to do with race. I remain hopeful in that regard, and we’ll see where the votes come out?”

Oh? It is plausible that Mr. Bernstein’s running was motivated by race, and the proof will be “where the votes come out?”

There has not been one credible charge that Mr. Bernstein’s campaign is racial in origin or intent.

How about saying this, Mrs. Jessamy: “The State’s Attorney’s contest is about who can do more to protect the citizens of Baltimore. My record shows that I am that person, and here’s why.”

The most discouraging quote in the Sun article comes from an African-American with whom I have shared a microphone and whom I like. Anthony McCarthy , a radio host and former spokesman for Sheila Dixon, said that “…[Y]ou can see that African-Americans have shifted into ‘Protect Pat Jessamy’ mode…It’s clear to me that Jessamy’s appeal to racial pride is working, and we’ve begun to see more energy generated in the black community on her behalf.”

Reverse the racial roles and imagine how outraged you would be, dear reader, if whites in Baltimore City were described as being energized by a Bernstein “appeal to racial pride.”

Let me add a note of disappointment that Elijah Cummings has made an ad supporting Mrs. Jessamy. I know, but am not a friend of, the impressive and honest Representative, and I am incredulous that he would support such a poor State’s Attorney and candidate. An African-American woman I am very close to in Baltimore City loves Rep. Cummings, and when I asked her about the ad, she said to me, “He knows better.”

If Mrs. Jessamy cannot stick to substantive issues in her campaign against Mr. Bernstein, it is a tacit admission that on the basis of evidence she is not the better candidate.

Let’s hope Baltimore voters vote on evidence, not racial appeals.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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