Few changes are sought in city districts

January 07, 1991|By Patrick Gilbertand Michael A. Fletcher | Patrick Gilbertand Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is considering only a few changes to the existing lines of Baltimore's six councilmanic districts as he prepares his redistricting plan.

This is the message the mayor delivered to the City Council during weekend meetings with individual council members.

Schmoke indicated that the city's population loss over the past 10 years was evenly distributed around the six districts and that population shifts made the racial balance in every district "generally acceptable," several council members said.

Schmoke's plan apparently lays to rest the fears of some members who thought Schmoke would use the redistricting power to move them into another district or to draw lines that dramatically improve the chances of electing more blacks to the City Council.

Despite proposing only minor changes in district lines, Schmoke is adding black population to South Baltimore's 6th District, increasing the chances of electing a black council member there. The 6th -- which in recent elections has had the lowest voter turnouts in the city -- always has had three white council members although its population was 42 percent black after the 1980 census.

The Schmoke plan, presented in meetings Friday and Saturday, also could increase the chance of electing a third black council member in the 2nd District, because the plan calls for the district to lose several mostly white precincts in Bolton Hill. The district, which was 31 percent white in 1980, now has one white and two black council members.

Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, said Schmoke would have no comment on the details of his redistricting plan until the final map is finished.

The changes being contemplated by Schmoke would increase the black population in the 6th District to 50 percent, while decreasing the white population of the 2nd District to about 22 percent.

Schmoke must submit his redistricting plan -- which is required by the City Charter after each U.S. census -- to the council by Feb. 1. The council has 60 days in which to approve the mayor's plan, modify it or draw a plan of its own.

"I don't see how anyone on the council can be upset by this," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th. "The plan that I saw was pretty equitable. It did not make any extreme changes."

The new plan would be in effect for the 1991 municipal elections, which begin with the September primary.

The data being used by Schmoke to draw his redistricting plan are essentially projections from the 1980 census, according to testimony given at a council hearing in November. A top Census Bureau official told the council the complete count might not be broken down into census tracts and precincts for cities until well after April 1.

A preliminary census count shows Baltimore's population dropping from 786,000 in the 1980 census to 720,000. The city is challenging those numbers.

The mayor's proposed changes would include:

* Moving two mostly black precincts (19 and 20) in the 28th Ward -- which includes the Ten Hills neighborhood -- from the 5th District into the 6th.

* Moving the 1st precinct in the 18th Ward and the 3rd precinct in the 4th Ward -- which include the mostly black Poppleton neighborhood -- from the 4th District, which is now estimated to be 99 percent black, to the 6th.

Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, said the moves affecting ,, his district are "of no major concern at all."

DiBlasi said he would welcome having the Poppleton neighborhood back in the district. The Poppleton neighborhood had been in the 6th District until it was moved to the 4th in the city's last redistricting plan, approved in 1983.

* Moving the predominantly white and affluent Bolton Hill neighborhood, including three precincts (1, 2 and 12) of Ward 14 and precinct 3 of Ward 11, from the 2nd to the 4th District.

* Moving the eastern portion of the racially mixed Reservoir Hill neighborhood, including four precincts (15, 16, 17 and 18) of Ward 13, from the 2nd to the 4th.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, said he objected to parts of the mayor's proposal. Since 1971, the black and white political clubs in the 2nd have formed a coalition that elected one white candidate and two blacks to the council. He said the historical coalition could be jeopardized by the plan.

Ambridge, who is white, said Schmoke's plan would "take away precincts from the 2nd and give the district nothing in return." He said the plan would make it more difficult for him to get re-elected.

Since last autumn, there has been widespread speculation that the mayor's plan would redistrict Ambridge out of the 2nd and Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, out of his district. Ambridge and Cunningham have been the mayor's most vocal council critics.

"We actually had a very cordial meeting," Ambridge said of his meeting with Schmoke. "He said that despite our differences, he couldn't see moving Bill and I out of our districts just to get back at us."

Cunningham could not be reached for comment. But his 3rd District colleague, Councilman Martin E. Mike Curran, said the mayor indicated he would make no changes to the borders of the 3rd District.

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