Schmoke's Redistricting Plan

January 12, 1991

After all the speculation about retaliatory gerrymandering to oust critical City Council members, the redistricting plan sketched by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke looks like an exercise in moderation. It is a pragmatic political move calculated to enhance Mr. Schmoke's re-election chances this year.

By rejecting the option of radical redistricting, the mayor seeks to set a tone of coalition-building for his upcoming campaign. He achieves a number of short-term advantages as a bonus. Most of the incumbent council members seem happy with the plan; they are not likely to create political mischief for him. This would make it difficult for any potential mayoral challenger to build a city-wide ticket that is based on well-known political names.

By shifting Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill from the Second District to the Fourth and adding Ten Hills (from the Fifth) and Poppleton (from the Fourth) to the Sixth District, the mayor would redraw two districts in a way that could increase black representation. Could he do more in a city that is over 60 percent black? The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People thinks so; it is talking about a court challenge. But is the fact that only seven of the 18 council members are black a result of district lines or a wound self-inflected by low black voter participation?

If the latter is the case, no amount of redrawn district lines would cure the problem of black under-representation. Drastic realignments that would be seen as racial gerrymandering could produce a white backlash, however. By choosing only to tinker with the districts, Mr. Schmoke may perform a difficult balancing act that solidifies his support among white voters. While his redistricting concepts could create some problems among blacks, those can be overcome in the campaign.

During his first term as mayor, Mr. Schmoke has been a non-traditional politician. His choice of battles has sometimes been peculiar, his timing often has been strange. In approaching his re-election bid, however, he has proven to be extraordinarily savvy. He dumped School Superintendent Richard C. Hunter to defuse a potentially explosive issue. He chose moderation in redistricting to keep political waters calm. Mr. Schmoke is building capital for political ventures that could extend beyond the second term he desires at City Hall.

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