Democrat David N. Dinkins became New York City's first black mayor by defeating Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani on Tuesday, while Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves, claimed the Virginia governorship in a close contest with Republican J. Marshall Coleman.
The apparent victory for Wilder, now Virginia's lieutenant governor, would make him the first black to win election as a governor in U.S. history. But his margin was so thin--less than 1% with 99% of the vote counted--that Republican leaders talked of demanding a recount.
In a third closely watched contest, Democratic Rep. James J. Florio easily defeated Republican Rep. Jim Courter to become governor of New Jersey.
In Virginia, with all but three of 1,967 precincts reporting, Wilder had 886,929 votes, or 50%, to Coleman's 880,508 votes, also 50%.
"The people of Virginia have spoken," Wilder told his supporters in Richmond. "Whatever it takes, that's what I want to win by."
Coleman said: "The race is not yet over." If the final vote total shows Wilder still ahead, he said, "I will congratulate him, but we do not yet know what the outcome will be."
In New York, with 99% of the precincts reporting, Dinkins had 893,560 votes, or 51%, to Giuliani's 841,691 votes, or 48%. Conservative and Right to Life candidates each had about 1%.
In New Jersey, with 95% of the precincts reporting, Florio garnered 1,275,315 votes, or 62%. Courter received 766,627 or 38%.
Black candidates, all Democrats, also fared well in other key races. Incumbent mayor Coleman Young was reelected in Detroit, and New Haven, Conn., elected its first black mayor. A black candidate led in the mayor's race in Seattle, and Cleveland, the first major city to elect a black mayor in 1967, put another black in the mayor's office for the first time in 18 years.
The results represented a "great day for Democrats but an even better day for America," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown, the first black to lead his party. "We Democrats have taught ourselves a lot about working together and pulling for mainstream America."
Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater acknowledged that "the Democrats out-campaigned us and ran better campaigns" in some local races. "My hat's off to them," Atwater said, "but I don't think it makes much difference at all with regards to the 1990 campaign."
Tuesday's balloting climaxed a campaign that had unusual national significance for an off-year election with no federal offices at stake. Such campaigns generally are dominated by local issues and personalities.
But a combination of circumstances in the 1989 contests underscored issues with far-reaching implications.
One such issue was abortion, pushed to the forefront by last summer's Supreme Court decision allowing states to impose restrictions on a woman's right to obtain an abortion. It became an important factor in Tuesday's key contests, particularly the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial campaigns.
Another broad question, raised by the candidacies of Democrats Wilder in Virginia and Dinkins in New York, involved the impact of racial attitudes on the electoral process. Finally, the issue of negative campaigning became a subject of widespread complaints as candidates of both parties launched televised onslaughts against each other.
In an Election Day press conference at the White House, President Bush sought to minimize the political importance of abortion, contending that most voters would not make up their minds over a "single issue."
Bush also sought to prevent his party from being pigeonholed as anti-abortion, although the GOP's national platform has stressed that position in recent years. "I think our party is broad enough to contain differing views on this, and I think the Democratic Party is," Bush claimed.
Nevertheless, polling data indicated that the Supreme Court ruling has had a significant impact, helping Democratic candidates who support the right to abortion while hurting Republican contenders, some of whom modified their previous opposition to abortion.
The changed political climate gave Democrats, who often have suffered from being viewed as advocates of an activist and intrusive government, to turn the tables on Republican opponents by accusing them of supporting government encroachment on individual rights.
In Virginia, Wilder's commercials warned women voters that "Marshall Coleman wants to take away your right to choose and give it back to politicians. He wants to go back to outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape and incest."
Coleman responded by promising that he would not push for legislation to restrict abortion to cases in which the mother's life is in danger, although that had been his position during the hard-fought primary campaign for the GOP nomination last spring.
And in New Jersey, Courter, who had been an outspoken foe of abortion, announced that he "would not simply impose my personal views on the women of New Jersey."
Most analysts agreed that these shifts in position hurt the Coleman and Courter campaigns, not only on the abortion issue, but also in more general terms. "It's made (Courter) look wishy-washy," said Richard Roper, director of the Program for New Jersey Affairs at Princeton University.
The abortion controversy also made it more difficult for Courter to win over supporters of New Jersey's popular two-term Republican governor Thomas H. Keane, a moderate who holds more permissive views on abortion rights than Courter.
Giuliani Shift Cited
In New York, Giuliani appeared to be hurt by his attempt to downplay his previous opposition to abortion. Dinkins' campaign commercials cited the shift as one of several attempts by Giuliani to abandon conservative positions to find votes in liberal New York.
Although abortion did not have the prominence in the mayoral race as it had in the two gubernatorial contests, a pre-election survey by the independent, nonpartisan Marist Institute showed that nearly 60% of likely voters in New York considered a candidate's views on abortion "very important." Among those voters, Dinkins enjoyed a 20% lead over Giuliani.
In Virginia, the abortion issue not only gained Wilder the backing of abortion rights advocates, including some Republicans, but also appeared to divert attention from the racial issue in that citadel of the Old Confederacy.
Coleman avoided overt references to Wilder's race until the closing days of the campaign, when he accused the news media of using a "double standard" in the campaign and giving Wilder "a free ride" because he is black.
Earlier in the campaign, Coleman had run commercials accusing Wilder of not being tough enough on crime. That argument, Wilder's aides maintained, was a coded reference to the race issue.
"I think it's a deliberate attempt to play on fears," said Frank Greer, Wilder's media adviser. "I think they are trying to make people uneasy about Doug Wilder."
But Wilder seemed to have employed a code of his own, suggesting subtly that his defeat might threaten the progress Virginians had made toward racial harmony in the quarter of a century since Virginia had been a stronghold of resistance to school desegregation.
Describing himself as part of "Virginia's new mainstream," Wilder urged: "Don't let Marshall Coleman take us back."
Apart from the implied warning of racial discord, the message reinforced Wilder's link to the past eight years of Democratic rule of Virginia under incumbent Gov. Gerald L. Baliles and his predecessor, Charles S. Robb, now a U.S. senator.
Somewhat to the surprise of his own supporters, Wilder's candidacy was not damaged by racial disorders in the resort town of Virginia Beach over Labor Day. It was feared that the incidents might have aggravated racial tensions in the state.
Nor did Dinkins' campaign appear to have suffered from reaction to the murder of a young black man by a white mob in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn last August, an incident also expected by some to worsen race relations.
Indeed, Dinkins appeared to have benefited from the episode by casting himself as a conciliatory figure who could prevent such incidents from setting off a chain reaction of violence and ill feeling.
Still, Dinkins' race cost him some support among white voters, particularly Jews, who normally are a bedrock of Democratic support. Dinkins tried to cut his losses by keeping his distance during the campaign from the nation's most prominent black politician, Jesse Jackson, who once offended many Jewish voters by making derogatory comments. But early exit polls indicated that Dinkins was having trouble getting even 50% of the Jewish vote.
Many analysts attributed the surge of negative campaign advertising to Bush's successful 1988 campaign strategy, a contention Bush disputed at Tuesday's White House press conference.
"I don't say anything started in 1988 that hadn't been taking place in '86 or '84 or '82 or '80 or so," Bush said. "And if you look into history, you're going to have certain things that are considered negative."
Bush said he did not see much that he could do to solve the problem. "I'm certainly not going to legislate it and certainly not going to try to dictate to a candidate how he or she, you know, reacts in a certain situation," he said.
Not counting on any presidential remedies, 1989's Democrats took things in their own hands. Remembering that 1988 presidential standard-bearer Michael S. Dukakis had been slow to respond to Bush's attacks, Wilder answered Coleman's first salvo in the Virginia gubernatorial race by blasting back that "Marshall Coleman has launched another vicious, negative ad campaign of distortion and false attacks . . . . The fact is, we just can't trust Marshall Coleman."
By the campaign's end, it appeared that Wilder had not been seriously hurt by Coleman and had succeeded in giving the Republican a reputation for negativism.
In New Jersey, Florio did not wait for his opponent to strike first. He took the initiative, accusing Courter of having toxic waste barrels on his property and circulating a cartoon depicting Courter's nose lengthening as a narrator accused him of distorting his stand on auto insurance, civil rights and abortion. "Poor Pinocchio," the narrator concluded. "Jim Courter's giving you a bad name."
In New York, Giuliani's barbs seemed to have been deflected by the aura of good will and compassion surrounding Dinkins. The Republican assault seemed only to reinforce Giuliani's reputation for aggressiveness and abrasiveness.
In other races Tuesday:
State Sen. Michael White defeated Cleveland City Council President George Forbes in a battle between two black candidates vying to succeed popular Republican Mayor George Voinovich. With 99% of the precincts reporting, White had 56% of the vote to 44% for Forbes.
Coleman Young, another black, won a fifth term as mayor of Detroit against Tom Barrow, a black challenger he defeated four years ago.
Early Seattle Returns
In Seattle's nonpartisan election, City Councilman Norm Rice, seeking to become the city's first black mayor, led City Atty. Doug Jewett in scattered early returns.
In New Haven, Conn., Democrat John Daniels, a five-term state senator, defeated Republican Alderwoman Robie Pooley. Daniels is the city's first black mayor.
Miami's first Cuban-born mayor, Xavier Suarez, easily won a third term in a nonpartisan contest with former City Commissioner Armando Lacasa, also Cuban-born.
In Houston, Kathy Whitmire was elected to a fifth term in a nonpartisan contest against six opponents, including former mayor Fred Hofheinz.
In Minneapolis, Mayor Donald Fraser won a fourth term in a race against fellow Democrat Jens Peterson, a firefighter, while in neighboring St. Paul, City Council President Jim Scheibel, a Democrat, defeated police Lt. Bob Fletcher, an independent.
In Tuesday's only congressional race, Houston City Councilman Anthony Hall and Texas state Sen. Craig Washington finished at the top in 11-way Texas contest to succeed the late Rep. Mickey Leland. They will face each other in a runoff.
Several ballot propositions also were settled in Tuesday's election.
In Texas, a $500-million water measure to bring running water and sewers to disease-ridden border towns was approved 56% to 44%, and a proposal to spend $400 million on new prisons to ease overcrowding was being approved 66% to 34%. Voters rejected a pay raise for state lawmakers by a 2-1 margin.
In Greensboro, N.C., where tobacco giant Lorillard Inc., employs 2,000 workers and more than half the city's registered voters smoke, limits on smoking in some public places were approved by 173 votes out of 29,809 cast.
New York City voters approved a charter change giving the mayor more power, boosting the size of the City Council from 35 to 51 members and abolishing the Board of Estimate.
In Utah, early returns were favoring the spending of $56 million in state tax revenues in hopes of becoming the host for the Winter Olympic Games in 1998. The money is needed for ski jumps, a speed skating oval and bobsled-luge runs.
Kansas City voters approved a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to raise $98 million over the next seven years to fight drugs.
Election results once again underscored the fact that New York is a liberal, Democratic city. A20
* SOUTHLAND ELECTIONS: A3, A27, A28
RESULTS OF KEY NATIONAL RACES
Precincts Contest Reporting Candidates Vote Virginia 99% L. Douglas Wilder (D) 50% Governor J. Marshall Coleman (R) 50 New Jersey 95 James J. Florio (D) 62 Governor Jim Courter (R) 38 New York City 99 David N. Dinkins (D) 51 Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) 48 Detroit Mayor 68 Coleman A. Young 56 (nonpartisan) Tom Barrow 44 Cleveland Mayor 99 Michael White 56 (nonpartisan) George Forbes 44 Miami Mayor 18 Xavier Suarez 68 (nonpartisan) Armando Lacasa 32 Houston Mayor 100 Kathy Whitmire 63 (nonpartisan) Fred Hofheinz 32 Seattle Mayor 45 Norm Rice (D) 56 Doug Jewett (R) 43 Texas 18th 100 Craig Washington (D) 41 Congressional Anthony Hall (D) 34