Searching for black Republicans in Baltimore | WYPR

Searching for black Republicans in Baltimore

Nov 8, 2016

Tamara Purnell, a Republican running for City Council in the 7th District, helps out at a community clean-up in the 1500 block of McKean Ave.
Credit Taylor Haire

It’s no secret that Baltimore is a heavily Democratic, and majority black, city. And it’s no secret that African Americans have been the Democrats’ strongest voting block for decades. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t Republicans who are black out there, running for office in Baltimore.

There’s Shannon Wright, for example, who’s running for City Council president. She says she’s running, not because she loves politics, but "because I want Baltimore City to be a place where I know my kids are safe."

And she argues that Democrats have failed the black community.

"When you say you’re a Democrat and you vote for the Democratic agenda, you’re voting against your best interest," she said. "You’re voting against your moral base."

But Wright isn’t the only African American who wants to break the Democrats’ hold on City Hall. Tamara Purnell, a Baltimore native, is running for City Council in the 7th District, which stretches north and west from Freddie Gray’s neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester toward Park Circle.

She’s a retired deputy sheriff who says she has grown frustrated with the Democrats.

"When I look around and I see the demise and the decay in the city, I realize that for 73 years, this city has been ruled by Democrats," she said.

Purnell says that people are often hesitant to speak with her after finding out that she’s a Republican. But after she talks to them for a while, "they begin to think about what the Democrats haven’t done and tell me that they’ll give me a try," she said.

Republicans, she says, haven’t done anything to hurt her, "it has been the Democratic rule."

Hassan Giordano, who calls himself a "conservative independent," is managing Democrat Sheila Dixon’s write in campaign for mayor. He says most black people have conservative values, they just don’t acknowledge them.

"Most people in the hood or just average black people look at the Republican Party as a racist party that really doesn’t have any interest for black people," he said. "But they won’t acknowledge being a Republican because they weren’t taught to be a Republican."

Liz Copeland, the founder and president of The Urban Conservative Project, says blacks align themselves with the Democratic Party because they feel they can’t relate to some of the Republican candidates. But, she says, that is beginning to change.

"People are just, like, I’m done with this two party system, I want to be by myself and not have this allegiance to a party, the Democratic Party that I don’t believe."

Copeland, who is bi-racial, says she challenges people because they assume she’s African American and ought to be a Democrat. But she’s a registered Republican.

No, there aren’t many black Republicans in urban areas, she acknowledges.

But "that’s an unfair standard to have for people of color, because we’re not monolithic. We all don’t agree on one approach to anything."

Or, apparently, which political party to support.