City Council members fear redrawn districts may erase electability

September 25, 1990|By Ann LoLordo

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is moving ahead with plans to redraw Baltimore's six City Council districts for next year's election. But council members, anxious about their political futures, want assurances that the lines won't be drawn to cut them out of their districts.

The mayor -- unlike his predecessors -- isn't making any such promises. At least not yet.

Unlike past redistricting battles, the potential for a nasty political fight is greater because of a 1984 change to the City Charter that established for the first time a one-year residency requirement for council members.

If the mayor's plan -- which must be submitted to the council by Feb. 1 -- removes a council member from his present district, the elected official would in effect be barred from running for his seat because he would not have lived in his new district long enough to meet the residency requirement.

Worried about their political futures and the basis on which their fates will be determined, council members asked Council President Mary Pat Clarke yesterday to deliver a message to Mayor Schmoke.

"Their urgent concern is that all council members will be held harmless in their districts in the course of drawing the map, that they won't be gerrymandered out of their district," Mrs. Clarke said. "Ten years ago, those assurances were given and that promise was made."

Intended to ensure fair and equal representation, redistricting is done after every census to reflect changes in population that might have left districts with widely varying populations.

The council has 60 days to review the mayor's plan and, if it so chooses, to submit a revised plan. If the council does not act, the mayor's proposal for the six districts would automatically become law.

Peter N. Marudas, the mayor's top aide for legislation, said Mr. Schmoke has concerned himself so far with trying to get "the best available [census] numbers" for the redistricting effort.

And until Mr. Schmoke gets an answer from the U.S. Census Bureau, he apparently isn't saying what other criteria might be used.

The fact that the city is challenging the Census Bureau's count of Baltimore's population has left council members wondering how the mayor can use figures that he is saying are inaccurate.

"People just want to be aware of what's happening, who's responsible for putting the plan together, what numbers are going to be used to put the plan together, so we have an opportunity to look at the numbers ourselves in preparation for considering a plan," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd. "What I expect is we're going to be having some dialogue with the mayor."

Several City Council members said yesterday that they have tried unsuccessfully to get information about the process the mayor intends to use in determining his redistricting plan. So far, they contend that they have been rebuffed in their efforts.

But Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd, said late yesterday that she had received assurances from the mayor that she and her colleagues will be "involved" in redrawing district lines. "He said it was not his intention to intentionally draw anyone out of their district," she said.

Yet the paranoia about possible political shenanigans has already begun.

More than one council member predicted yesterday that colleagues who have publicly challenged the Schmoke administration in the past would become victims of "Larrymandering," -- a reference to Mr. Schmoke's chief political strategist, Larry S. Gibson.

Mr. Gibson took exception to the term yesterday, insisting that he knew nothing of the mayor's redistricting plan. And if anyone sug

gested that he did, Mr. Gibson said, "they would be a little more than mistaken."

Twenty years ago, a special commission including a cross section of residents and council members prepared the redistricting plan for the 1971 election. In the most recent effort, in 1983, changes in Baltimore's population did not necessitate wholesale changes in the council districts. Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer relied on the city Planning Department -- as is Mr. Schmoke now -- and his chief aide to redraw the maps.

Second District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, who lives within

a block or two of the Fifth District, said he and others want answers now.

"How he [Mr. Schmoke] communicates with us on this matter may determine how well we communicate with him in the very near future," Mr. Ambridge said.

The Census Bureau released a preliminary census count in August putting Baltimore's population at 720,100, an 8.5 percent drop from 1980. But the preliminary census counts do not include a racial breakdown of the population, data that would be important to ensure that minority voting strength isn't diluted or underrepresented.

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