City redistricting plan

January 15, 1991

On its face, the redistricting plan reportedly being considered by Mayor Schmoke should ease the anxiety of City Council members worried about changes that would put their seats at risk. Schmoke's redrawing of the district map apparently contains no crazy-quilt borders aimed at gerrymandering incumbents out of office or population shifts large enough to alter the racial makeup of any district delegation.

And there lies the rub: precisely because the mayor's plan leaves the status quo pretty much undisturbed, it is likely to be challenged. Last week, the head of the Baltimore NAACP indicated the group will take the city to court over the plan because it would leave blacks, who comprise 55 to 60 percent of the population, with only seven of the 18 seats on the City Council.

Schmoke's refusal to play racial politics with redistricting is certainly admirable. But one wonders if he isn't trying to have it both ways too. This is an election year, after all. If the courts ultimately strike down the present district system, which locks in black under-representation on the council, the mayor still benefits without having alienated white council members and their constituents whose support he needs in November.

The main risk of such a stratagem, of course, is how it will play with black voters. But perhaps Schmoke believes his support among blacks is strong enough to discount any major defections. Given the fact that, at least so far, no credible challenger has appeared on the scene, he may be right.

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