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Blacks Divided Over City Elections

April 17, 1986

DOVER, Del. (AP) _ A black candidate who is trying to win back his seat on the all-white City Council could hurt a pending lawsuit that accuses the election system of discrimination, a local civil rights official says.

James Hardcastle is the only black to serve on the City Council in Delaware’s capital, but he lost re-election in 1984. His candidacy in Monday’s election has caused debate in the city’s black community.

″If he wins, it may decrease the impact of our lawsuit,″ said Reuben Salters, a vice president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court before last year’s city elections, contends the at-large election process and dual registration violates the 1964 Voting Rights Act and makes it virtually impossible for blacks to get elected.

Dover has four election districts of different sizes from which candidates for each seat are chosen, although voters throughout the city cast ballots for all seats.

Residents must also register to vote at City Hall for city elections, separate from registration for federal, state and county elections.

Similar election systems on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have been challenged over the past year by the Justice Department, which won its cases after arguing that the voting power of blacks was diluted.

Hardcastle would not discuss the controversy, but said that before he announced his candidacy this year, he asked the NAACP if it would be a problem.

″I found out it wouldn’t be a problem,″ he said.

Hardcastle, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1975, was re-elected four times before being defeated by Roger Bulley in 1984. On Monday he faces Bulley and political newcomer Patrick Lynn.

Cecil Wilson, president of the NAACP’s Dover branch, said the national chapter advised him not to take a stand on Hardcastle’s candidacy.

″The national office has not assured me whether (Hardcastle’s candidacy) will help or not help the suit,″ said Wilson, who added that he believes any black candidate could hurt the lawsuit.

Dr. Luna Mishoe, president of predominately black Delaware State College, said a black candidate, even if he wins, should have no impact on the lawsuit.

″I think the judges know what’s going on in Dover and they know what’s right. I don’t think this will be considered a maneuver to confuse the judges and I don’t think the judges will be confused,″ Mishoe said.

Marshall Arnell, who is black, supports the lawsuit and is backing Lynn.

″The fact that Mr. Hardcastle has chosen to run within the old system, knowing that the suit is on file, seems to be an acceptance of the system,″ he said.

Salters and William Daisey, the two black candidates for council seats last year, both lost.

″Regardless of who it is, we need black representation on City Council now, immediately,″ said Salters, who is on Hardcastle’s campaign committee.

Dover has a population of about 23,000 people, about 29 percent of whom are black. It has 4,512 registered voters for Monday’s elections, out of an estimated 16,000 eligible voters, said William Willis, the city clerk.

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