In the 1968 presidential election, the 66th ward in far Northeast Philadelphia voted for third-party candidate George Wallace, the former segregationist governor of Alabama.
But in yesterday's mayoral election, one in four Democrats in the predominantly white 66th cast a ballot for a black candidate, mostly for winner Michael Nutter.
Is Philadelphia finally getting over race?
A survey of returns from yesterday's Democratic mayoral primary confirms the trend toward greater racial crossover voting reflected in pre-election polls.
A Daily News comparison of voting patterns in 36 of the city's most racially homogeneous wards found that 29 percent of voters in black wards voted for a white candidate, more than twice the crossover voting in the 1999 primary.
White wards also reflected the trend, with 27 percent of their ballots going to black candidates.
"I think it's an extraordinary breakthrough," said city Controller Alan Butkovitz, himself a Northeast Philadelphia ward leader. "There is just all kinds of anecdotal and statistical evidence that people weren't looking at this election in racial terms."
The analysis is at best a rough estimate of racial voting patterns, and it arguably understates crossover voting, since it doesn't include more racially mixed wards.
And while it shows growing cross-racial voting since the 1999 race, it appears the great majority of voters in the racially homogenous wards still cast mayoral ballots for a candidate of their own color.
Several analysts noted that none of the five major Democratic candidates was a racially polarizing figure, and the campaign itself was largely free of racial appeals until the closing days.
Maurice Floyd, an African-American Democratic political consultant, said he's convinced that more voters in many races are judging candidates as individuals, rather than on racial identity.
"It was clear to me in this election that people wanted something different," Floyd said. "I think we're beyond that intense racial voting now, and when you're out there among voters, you can feel it. Just look at the Barack Obama thing. You're seeing white people all over with Obama T-shirts."
Butkovitz, a longtime student of Philadelphia voting patterns, said he's seen the decline in racial identification in City Council and other races for several years.
"I think there's no going back on it," Butkovitz said. "I think this is the breaking of a threshold, and it's nonreversible." *