Several City Council members and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are headed for a showdown Monday over the mayor's refusal to give them a flat guarantee that his councilmanic redistricting plan will keep them in their existing districts.
Three council members in particular who live near their district boundary lines -- Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, and Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th -- have been pushing for a guarantee from the mayor.
The City Charter gives the mayor until Feb. 1 to submit to the council a plan for reapportioning the council districts to reflect the 1990 census count. After the council receives the mayor's plan, it has 60 days to either adopt it, make changes in it or adopt a plan drafted by the council.
The closest the mayor came to responding to the concern that incumbents will remain safe was to pledge to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke on Tuesday that he will meet with each council member before submitting his final plan.
In his meeting with Clarke, Schmoke dealt more directly with the other major concern of the council when he agreed to share with the council the census figures he uses to put together his plan.
Clarke requested a meeting Tuesday with the mayor in the hope that a showdown could be avoided Monday when the two sides get together Monday for their biweekly luncheon.
Council Vice President Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd, said the mayor told her Monday, that "he had no intention to intentionally redraw anyone out of their district." McLean said she took that to mean the mayor was saying all incumbents were safe.
But it was clear that at the luncheon the mayor will be pressed again on the issue of redistricting.
"What does 'intentionally' mean," Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, responded. "I'm not comfortable with the mayor's terminology. Why can't we just get a flat pledge from the mayor without using hidden messages that all incumbents are safe. We'll be sure and ask him that next Monday."
Ambridge pointed out that in 1983, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer told the council early that in his redistricting plan he would not cut any of the incumbents out of their districts.
In redistricting, the existing boundary lines of the six councilmanic districts could be changed by moving precincts from one district to another.
With Cunningham, Ambridge and Murphy, the mere change of one precinct in each case would be enough to move them into another district. And without a political base in their new districts, it would be very difficult for them to be re-elected.
Cunningham lives within two and a half blocks of the 2nd District, Ambridge lives one block away from the 5th District and Murphy's home precinct also borders the 5th.
Among the 18 members of the council, Cunningham and Ambridge have been the most visible critics of the administration and the mayor has not hidden his displeasure at times with the two.
"Wouldn't it be just convenient to move me into the Second District with Ambridge and we would both disappear," said Cunningham.
If that occurred, Cunningham and Ambridge, who are both white, would be running in a district with about a 65 percent black population. The other two council members from the 2nd, McLean and Carl Stokes, are black.
The mayor and Murphy have not clashed over many issues and their few disagreements were kept more private. But Murphy, by virtue of living near the boundary of his district, could be victim of numbers balancing.
Clint Coleman, the mayor's press aide, said the mayor is commited to "getting the most reliable census figures and coming up with a plan that ensures fair representation. Beyond that, it is too early to talk about anything else."