Schmoke plan for redistricting called too little

January 29, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

An article and a map yesterday on proposed changes in Baltimore City Council districts incorrectly reported proposals for the 1st and 2nd councilmanic districts. The 2nd District would acquire from the 1st District an area bounded by Belair Road, Sinclair Lane, Edison Highway and Erdman Avenue. Also, a strip bounded by Madison, Eager and Chester streets and Edison Highway would go from the 1st to the 2nd District.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke forwarded yesterday to the City Council a plan for reshaping the city's six councilmanic districts that black voter advocates say avoids the sweeping changes needed to overcome black underrepresentation on the council.

The Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several black council members said the proposal would preserve a white majority in the 19-member council despite the fact that the city is estimated to be more than 60 percent black.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Seven members of the current council are black.

"Even under the best of circumstances there is no way blacks can achieve equitable representation on the council in the next 10 years under the plan being submitted by the mayor," said Arthur W. Murphy, the NAACP president. "If the council passes this plan, we will be in the court the next day."

Carl Stokes, D-2nd, leader of a coalition of black councimembers, said he would try to muster support for a plan he and others are devising that would result in four districts -- the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th -- with populations that are at least 65 percent black. Mr. Stokes said he would seek support from council members from the 3rd District, which would not be affected by such a plan.

The mayor defended his plan, saying that it would correct irregularities in the district lines that might have been challenged in court and that it would not frustrate black voting power.

"What I tried to do is correct the gerrymandering that was done in the current map," the mayor said.

"Yes, a lot of people have been concerned about race," he said. "What I am saying is if you look at the [proposed] map, the opportunity is clearly there for blacks to get elected."

The mayor said his plan would create two districts with white majorities, three with black majorities and one where the black and white populations would be even.

He said it would make the 1st District about 28 percent black, the 2nd District about 70 percent black; the 3rd District would be about 40 percent black; the 4th District would be 90 percent black; the 5th District would be 60 percent to 65 percent black and the 6th District would be about 50 percent black.

Mr. Murphy and other critics of the mayor's plan said that it does not go far enough and that courts have recognized that extraordinary measures sometimes are required to overcome the effects of district lines drawn to dilute black voter strength.

Mr. Murphy referred to two Supreme Court decisions issued this month that indicated that minority voters whose votes have been diluted by unfairly drawn district lines may be given a much better chance, through redistricting, of having the candidates of choice elected.

In one 9-0 ruling, the court upheld a ruling a year ago by a federal court in Arkansas saying that blacks -- in situations where racial bias kept them away from the polls -- must be placed in state legislative districts where more than 60 percent of the voters are black to overcome the effects of past bias.

Proponents of such districts in Baltimore argue that a redistricting plan passed in the early 1970s unfairly concentrated black voting strength in the 4th and 2nd districts, while diluting it elsewhere.

They say that has allowed entrenched white political organizations in Northeast Baltimore, East Baltimore and South Baltimore -- the 1st, 3rd and 6th districts -- to retain their power long after whites became outnumbered in the city.

Meanwhile, the mayor's plan would allow all of the 18 district councilmen to remain within their districts.

Some council members had worried that the mayor was plotting to draw the lines so that they no longer lived in the districts they represent.

The mayor's plan would shift Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill from the 2nd District and place them in the 4th District.

A section of Poppleton, which now is in the 4th District, would be divided between the 6th District and 1st District. The 6th District also would receive 10 Hills from the 5th District, which would receive a corner of Park Heights from the 4th District.

Meanwhile, the 2nd District would cede the 4 by 4 neighborhood and a strip near Dunbar High School to the 1st District.

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