Schmoke redistricting plan won't help, NAACP says

January 29, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff Patrick Gilbert contributed to this story.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is moving ahead with a redistricting plan that proposes only minor changes to existing councilmanic district lines and seems unlikely to affect the racial composition of the City Council.

Schmoke's plan, introduced in the council yesterday, disappointed the executive director of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, who said the plan does not do enough to ensure the election of blacks.

The city's population is estimated at more than 60 percent black but only seven of the 18 council members are black. The council president is elected citywide.

"Whites are not willing to share power until power is taken," said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We are always the good guys, the fair guys. And Kurt Schmoke is no different. He is a good guy."

Buntin said the NAACP is preparing for a possible lawsuit to challenge the plan, which must be approved by the council in 60 days.

And, several council members said a move is afoot to amend the mayor's plan to have strong black majorities in at least four of the six councilmanic districts. The 4th, 5th, and 2nd districts already meet that test.

"I'm interested in a map that corrects some of the racial gerrymandering that took place in past years," said Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, who said he wants to see a plan with more districts with large black majorities.

The district most likely to be changed under any such amendment is the 6th, which under Schmoke's plan would become 51 percent black.

But Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, D-6th, said the mayor's plan is fine. Also, he said, incumbents in his district serve and win votes from blacks and whites.

Despite the protests, Schmoke -- the first black mayor to draw district lines in Baltimore's history -- defended his plan as "fair" and said it "affords an opportunity" for blacks to win more council seats.

Three council members are elected from each of the districts. Under Schmoke's plan, three of the districts will maintain substantial black majorities: the 2nd, 4th and 5th.

The mayor's plan would make the 6th District 51 percent black, the 1st District about 28 percent black and the 3rd District, whose lines were untouched by Schmoke, about 40 percent black.

Schmoke said the plan makes it easier for blacks to win seats in at least two of the districts where there never has been black representation: the 3rd and the 6th.

"Baltimoreans don't vote strictly on race -- not in the 1980s," Schmoke said. "Previously, I couldn't say that."

He said that blacks could win seats if they are allowed to form coalition tickets with the white political organizations that dominate local politics in the 3rd and 6th.

"I'm hoping that there will be some integrated tickets," Schmoke said. "I've expressed that to members of the council. We'll see what the response will be during the upcoming political season."

Opponents of Schmoke's plan have said that political representation rarely becomes integrated until blacks make up a "super majority" of at least 65 percent in a district.

But Schmoke and his aides point to examples of black candidates who have been voted into office by mostly white electorates, including Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia and Rep. Alan Wheat of Missouri.

But that argument left opponents of the mayor's plan unimpressed.

"People don't vote by race? That's crap," Buntin said. "Alan Wheat and Doug Wilder are glorious accidents. And that's especially true in the case of Doug Wilder. He almost didn't get elected. And the reason it almost didn't happen is because of race. If Doug Wilder had been white, he [would have] won by a landslide."

Schmoke said that he was guided by legal precedent and the City Charter in drawing his redistricting plan. He also said that he wanted to correct what he called past "gerrymanders" in several districts. Mostly, he said, he did not want to "radically" alter existing district lines.

"That would clearly be more disruptive for the entire community," Schmoke said. "And the question is, what do you achieve by doing that?"

The mayor's plan, which, barring court intervention, would go into effect in time for the fall city elections, also is opposed by residents in mostly white and affluent Bolton Hill. The traditionally liberal community is slated to move to the overwhelmingly black 4th District from the 2nd -- a move that residents say will break long-standing neighborhood alliances.

Schmoke, however, has asked Bolton Hill residents to take their case to the hearings on the plan, which are to begin Feb. 19.

"I can only hope that people give the ordinance a fair hearing," Schmoke said.

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