Baltimore's "White Shadow"


Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in 1999.

AP Photo

A CBS News "Eye on America" investigation this week takes a close look at the country's racial dividing lines.

CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts begins with a look at the city of Baltimore, where two out of three residents are black.

Baltimore, Maryland is a blue-collar city trimmed in row houses and tailored by years of white flight, high unemployment and even higher crime. It's a city where race and politics collided recently like rap music at an Irish dance.

Meet Baltimore's newest mayor: Martin O'Malley, who's also lead singer in an Irish band.

O'Malley's victory last year defied political logic here. Kurt Schmoke, the first ever African-American mayor of this predominately black city, decided not to run for re-election. It was presumed a black candidate would run and win. But O'Malley ran in a crowded field and won.

"We focused on issues that were important to all of the people of the city," says the mayor.

O'Malley's decisive victory was also a divisive one. Many have wondered out loud whether a white mayor can lead a city that's 65 percent black.

"He's perceived as the mayor of white Baltimore," says Wiley Hall, a longtime Baltimore newspaper columnist. Hall points out that nine out of 10 whites voted for O'Malley.

"You could almost go downtown and see whites high-fiving each other," says Hall.

Resentment still lingers in the city's black community.

"We should have an African-American mayor," says Rev. Gregory Perkins, a civil rights activist who has been active for decades. Perkins argues that whites usually vote along racial lines and therefore so should blacks.

Asked whether his first choice will always be the black candidate, Perkins says, "Most definitely."

But isn't that what people fought against in the 1960s - viewing things purely in term of race?

"In America, it's a reality," says Perkins. "And I'm convinced no one can represent me like me."

Dr. Frank Reid, pastor of Bethelame Church, one of the largest black churches in Baltimore, endorsed O'Malley and says he got "plenty of grief" for it.

"Somebody has to break us out of the racial box that we've been in for the last 400 years," Reid says. "Race is important, but everybody of color is not your kind."

Now in office 19 months, O'Malley has managed to reduce crime, as well as the rumblings about race.

"Every time we lift the 24/7 drug dealer siege in a block in East Baltimore, it makes dealing with race a little bit easier," says the mayor.

"I think that there is a lot of optimism throughout Baltimore and the region about the future of this city again," O'Malley continues. "You know we had stopped believing in each other, put limits on one another. We had a lot on the one side, a lot of white retreat, and the other side of that bankrupt coin, a lot of racial racketeering. And we're at a point where we've come to believe in each other again."

O'Malley doesn't know if humankind can reach a oint where race doesn't matter, but says, "I think that everyday we reach a point where it matters less."

The mayor admits that his mayoralty may well be a social science experiment of sorts. One measured, he hopes, more by competence than color.