Schmoke presents plan for new council districts

January 08, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has drafted a redistricting plan for the City Council that is unlikely to lay the groundwork for a significant change in the racial makeup of the council.

Some members of the black community have looked hopefully to the once-per-decade redistricting as an opportunity to distribute black voting strength more equally throughout the city's six councilmanic districts so that more blacks could win seats on the 19-member City Council.

Although Baltimore is more than 60 percent black, only seven members of the council are black.

But in choosing a plan widely described as "non-confrontational," the mayor apparently sought to preserve political peace rather than provoke a racially-tinged battle with white political organizations just eight months before he and all other members of the council face the voters.

"Right now I don't see much opportunity for more black representation," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, who is black. "I think it [the plan] needs to be worked a little more."

However, Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, who is white, praised the mayor's draft. "He seems to have been trying to achieve the least provocative arrangement that would be agreeable to everyone," he said.

The redistricting plan was presented to councilmen in a series of meetings over the weekend. Aides to the mayor insisted it was not yet final and still might be changed, but many council members said they were pleased with what they had seen so far.

A change in the district lines is important to more than just council members seeking re-election. Redistricting could force community organizations long accustomed to dealing with one council delegation for help with alley cleaning, snow removal and other constituent services to build different alliances.

Under the city's charter, the mayor must submit a redistricting plan by Feb. 1 that will reflect population changes recorded in the 1990 census. The council then has 60 days to approve the plan or draft an alternative.

Clint Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Schmoke would not make public the proposals he discussed with the council members. "It is not to the point that he is unveiling anything," Mr. Coleman said. "He will discuss no specific details or specific changes until the map is complete, and the map is not done yet."

Many black political leaders have complained that City Council lines since 1971 have been deliberately drawn to concentrate black voting strength in one district, West Baltimore's 4th, where there is an overwhelming black majority, while diluting the remaining black voting strength among the other five districts. Three of the city's six councilmanic districts -- the 1st, 6th and 3rd -- have all-white, three-member council delegations. All three districts are dominated by the remnants of Baltimore's old guard political machines.

Some council members said the boundary shifts recommended in the mayor's draft did not go far enough to reflect the changing VTC racial balance in the city. For instance, district lines in East Baltimore's 1st District and in Northeast Baltimore's 3rd District are not changed at all by the plan drafted by the mayor. The 3rd District is now estimated to be about 38 percent black.

According to council members who met with the mayor, Mr. Schmoke is proposing to shift predominantly white Bolton Hill and sections of Reservoir Hill from the 2nd District to the 4th District.

The 2nd District is a majority black district with one white councilman, Anthony J. Ambridge, who said he felt he could still win re-election under the proposed realignment.

The 4th District is virtually all-black.

At the same time, the Schmoke draft would enlarge the 6th District, which was 41.6 percent black in 1980, by shifting the predominantly-black neighborhoods of Ten Hills from the 5th District and Poppleton from the 4th District.

The 6th District is now almost half-black but is represented by three white councilmen -- all members of the dominant South Baltimore political organization, the Stonewall Democratic Club.

Mr. Murphy said that although the plan would increase the percentage of blacks in the 6th District, he did not think it would necessarily lead to the ouster of any of the incumbents.

"I don't see any political jeopardy here at all," Mr. Murphy said. "I really got the impression that the mayor seems not to have attached any political significance to the lines."

The mayor's plan was popular with at least two councilmen who are frequently critical of the mayor -- Mr. Ambridge and Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd -- and who had feared that Mr. Schmoke would use the redistricting to try to oust them from their council seats.

Both said they were on the whole happy with Mr. Schmoke's draft plan, though Mr. Ambridge said he was reluctant to see Bolton Hill taken from the 2nd District and put in the 4th.

Under the mayor's plan, the black population of the 2nd District will increase, but Mr. Ambridge says he thinks he can win re-election. Two of the 2nd District's three council members are black.

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