If The Wire does nothing else for American society, it's still made an indelible impression on Maryland politics. Clay Davis isn't just drawn from a couple of disgraced Baltimore politicians. He's so perfectly archetypical that a number of local bloggers and commenters--and apparently a few journalists--have started using Clay as a synonym for corrupt machine politicians like Maryland's Al Wynn, recently voted out of office in a primary challenge from local activist Donna Edwards.
I was reminded of Wynn when Clay Davis took his crack at "Prosecutor Obonda" in episode seven, and when he insinuated that Rupert Bond was doing the work of white puppetmasters the week before that. Wynn is an Obama supporter (as is Edwards), but he, like Clay Davis, was perfectly happy to argue that his opponent was a pawn of white interests bent on bringing down a black politician. In the days before the primary, Wynn's supporters in the real estate and credit industries funded a barrage of ads that attacked the netroots-supported Edwards because she was funded by "super-rich people from out of state who don't get our community." Emphasis very much in the original. (Edwards, like Wynn, is black, so he couldn't aim the smear directly at her. He did say she was part of a "vast, dare I say, left-wing conspiracy.") Davis merely went one step further, implying that his prosecutor was inauthentically, insufficiently black--the last remnant of an odious argument floated by Clinton surrogates in the days before South Carolina. (BET founder Robert Johnson compared Obama to Sidney Poitier in much the same way that Davis linked Bond to Obama. That was positively genteel compared to Andrew Young.)
Those attacks generated a powerful backlash in the primaries--a backlash that The Wire failed to see coming. You can tell this season was written and filmed a year ago; looking at the Maryland primary results, I'm guessing no defendant in a Baltimore courtroom would try to link his prosecutor to Barack Obama today.
I had thought the shared race-baiting cemented the Clay Davis-Al Wynn connection until Wynn entered the cast of The Wire this week, in heavily doctored form, as Congressman Upshaw. The scene where Carcetti goes to DC to put down a Prince George's County challenge for the governor's mansion alludes to the 2002 gubernatorial race, when Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend passed over black DC-area Democratic prospects to choose a former Republican from Annapolis as her running mate, and generally neglected the DC suburbs (which are increasingly rivaling Baltimore for power in the Democratic party and the state). Plenty of people in the DC area were not pleased by the snub, including Al Wynn, who had been using his congressional seat to position himself as a kingmaker in state and county affairs. Wynn is even rumored to have squeezed Townsend for money if she wanted to keep him from throwing his Get Out the Vote operation behind the Republican candidate, and to have done the same with
Tommy Carcetti Martin O'Malley four years later.
Townsend went on to lose her race, the first time Maryland elected a Republican governor in nearly forty years (since that paragon of class and ethics, our gift to the nation, Spiro Agnew). That loss had little to do with Wynn per se and a lot more to do with Townsend's inept strategy and lackluster campaigning--upon hearing that Townsend endorsed Hillary Clinton, this Obama supporter breathed a sigh of relief--but it set up Wynn to pretend he had more influence than he did. He continued to play kingmaker and to vote against his constituents, at least until Donna Edwards scared him in 2006 and unseated him in 2008.
That upset is an indication that maybe things aren't as hopeless as they sometimes seem on The Wire. Sure, the show's done elections before, and the challengers have won, and they have learned how little they can change. But the Donna Edwards victory removes a Clay Davis Democrat from office, and Al Wynn was failed by the tactics that let Clay wriggle off the hook.
I write this as a P.G. County native and a proud graduate of the Prince George's County public schools. Held together with glue? Look out, Upshaw--maybe the netroots of the Wireworld are coming for your ass, too.