Redrawing City Council Districts

January 29, 1991

Consider this amazing fact: with all the changes that have taken place in Baltimore in the past two decades, the last time City Council districts were redrawn was in 1971. Even though the city's population plummeted from about 900,000 to 781,000 by 1981 and three districts (the Fourth, Sixth and Second) lost more than 20 percent of their residents, there was no redrawing of council district lines at all in the 1980s.

Even more remarkable, the redistricting plan unveiled by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke largely maintains the 20-year-old district lines despite further exodus that has reduced the city's population to 736,000. The two main changes involve shifting Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill from the Second District to the Fourth and moving Poppleton from the Fourth to the Sixth District. In a city that is 62 percent black, the First District would be 28 percent black, the Second 70 percent black, the Third 40 percent black, the Fourth 90 percent black, the Fifth more than 60 percent black and the Sixth about 50 percent black, according to the mayor.

"I think it segregates the city -- three white and three black districts -- but let's see," grumbles Second District Councilman Anthony Ambridge. His district would lose Bolton Hill, a restoration neighborhood of Victorian town houses which over the years has forged close political ties to Mount Royal, Charles Village and East Baltimore. As a result of that alliance, the district has elected a black-white fusion ticket since 1971. Only one other area, Northwest Baltimore's Fifth District, has an integrated council delegation.

"Lines on the map don't guarantee a certain racial composition on the council," argues Mayor Schmoke. He says he hopes that political alliances would produce integrated tickets in various districts. "People don't vote strictly by race," he says.

The Schmoke plan goes to the City Council, which must act on redistricting within 60 days. While some activists and politicians may be furious, the council is unlikely to agree on any drastic revisions. All council members, after all, had their turf nicely protected, with the possible exception of Mr. Ambridge. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People may challenge the plan in court, however, contending that the plan does not go far enough to guarantee a black City Council majority in a city where 62 percent of the population is black.

The Schmoke redistricting plan is an exercise in moderation. It strives to increase black representation with minimal disruption of neighborhood borders. Its biggest flaw is that it divorces Bolton Hill, a stable and active community, from its natural neighbors.

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