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Binghamton's 1872 Mayoral Election: Lost Results

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Binghamton has it's first African American city council woman, Lea Webb but could the city have had an African American mayor in the 1870s?

Making history in 2008 -- Binghamton's first African American elected city official and a woman, Lea Webb.

"From a historical standpoint being able to make history in the community I been born and raised in has truly been an honor and a blessing," said Binghamton City Council Member Lea Webb.

And history is what it took to get to this point but let's rewind to the election of 1872 -- a wealthy banker and businessman -- Sherman Phelps holding the democrat and republican ballot lines for Binghamton mayor, running unopposed but there was a little twist in the election that year....

Thomas Crocker's name was added to the ballot by residents and Crocker was a black man.

"Here's a illiterate former slave.. street character everyone knew who gets written in a mayoral election in a really white city in the north, and he still got a lot of votes which I think is commendable whether he was elected or not," said Gerald Smith, Broome County historian.

Since crocker was illiterate smith says he may not have even known he was on the ballot. It has been reported that Phelps received more than 1,700 votes and Crocker received 180 but those numbers have been disputed through various newspaper accounts through the years.

The microfilm shows results from 1871 and 1873 but 1872 is what's missing.

Why would you rip the two pages out of the election results book? Who ripped those pages out?

"No one knows," said Smith.

If Crocker had been put into office he would have been the first black mayor above the Mason Dixon Line.

Almost 100 years later Carl Stokes, the first black mayor in a northern major city, was elected in Cleveland in 1967.

"Thomas Crocker and other trial blazers in our community from communities of color men and women, I think it's something that all of us in this community can kind of take pieces of their story and learn from," said Webb.

What does Thomas Crocker's story say about racism in Binghamton in the 1870s? After all, his name was written on the mayoral ballot by members of a predominately white community.

And what can we say about racism today?

Smith said, "It's hard to change attitudes of society, especially when those attitudes have been here for a long period of time. Especially the quiet attitudes that people just kind of hold. And they don't say out loud but they believe in their minds and those are the ones that take generations to change."

Another name written by voters on that 1872 mayoral ballot: African American Leader Harold Jones or "Big Jones."

Jones received 3 votes.