City Council OKs Plan for 5 majority black districts

March 19, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

In a raucous, shoe-waving session, the Baltimore City Council threw out Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's status quo redistricting plan last night and replaced it with one that would create five councilmanic districts with black majorities and leave only one -- East Baltimore's 1st District -- with a white majority.

The plan, proposed by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, was given preliminary approval on a 10-7 vote, with two council members abstaining. A final vote on the Stokes plan could come as early as Thursday.

Mr. Stokes said he proposed what amounted to wholesale revision of the mayor's plan for redrawing the lines of the city's six council districts because the Schmoke plan did not do enough to shake up the political machines that have kept the City Council predominantly white when Baltimore itself has a black majority.

Opponents were incensed, however, saying that it "raped" their neighborhoods and had been proposed before community leaders could express their views.

The argument was fierce and broke down largely along racial lines. At one point, Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, took off her shoe and waved it in the faces of her white colleagues, saying, "You've been running things for the last 20 years -- now the shoe is on the other foot. See how you like it."

Mayor Schmoke learned about the proposal with most other council members at a luncheon yesterday and was angered by the lack of public notice, according to his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.

"He feels it could have a serious impact on the black and white communities of the city, and he was troubled by the fact that the proposal was passed without giving adequate opportunities for the neighborhoods to respond," Mr. Coleman said.

"He called it the worst kind of back-room politics."

The plan would move much of white South Baltimore -- including Locust Point -- to the 1st District. Likewise, predominantly white areas of Northeast Baltimore as far as Harford Road would also go to the 1st, leaving the district 79 percent white. The moves would leave both the 3rd and the 6th districts -- which now are represented by three white council members each -- with black majorities of about 60 percent.

In the center city, Bolton Hill would remain in the 2nd District under the Stokes plan. Under the mayor's plan, it would go to the 4th District. The mayor's plan would also move Ten Hills from the 5th to the 6th district, but otherwise makes only minor boundary changes that would not dramatically change the racial makeup of the districts.

The council is redrawing district boundaries to reflect population changes in the 1990 census. The new council districts will be those used in this year's council elections.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who supported the Stokes plan, said there would be a public hearing on the plan at 4 p.m. today in the council chambers.

But Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, D-3rd, said that was too late.

"This is a total and complete abuse of power, and I defy you to explain to your constituents how you could engineer a move like this," yelled Mr. Landers. "Those of us duly voted to represent our neighborhoods were not even given the respect of seeing this plan until noon today. It's a travesty of the democratic process."

However, supporters of the proposal said they had made their concerns about increasing black populations in predominantly white districts known for the past two months.

"I'm disappointed in what Mayor Schmoke said about the proposal," said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th. "Here we have an African-American mayor who got into office on the backs of black constituents [and] who says this plan is unfair and bad politics. That's outrageous."

"If this amendment passes, it's a rape of our communities," said Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd, said of Mr. Stokes' plan. "I can't stand and let this go on. I made a commitment to put a black candidate on our ticket, but apparently that's not enough."

Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th, said Mr. Stokes' proposal had deeper goals. In supporting his plan, she said she hoped to empower black community groups and give them stronger voices for change.

Redistricting plan

Under the redistricting plan scheduled to be voted on by the City Council this week, five of Baltimore's six council districts would have black majorities. The breakdown for the proposed districts follows:

District.. .. .. Black.. .. .. White

First.. .. .. .. 19%.. .. .. .. 79%

Second.. .. .. .. 68.. .. .. ... 29

Third.. .. .. .. . 61.. .. .. .. 37

Fourth.. .. .. .. 86.. .. .. .. .13

Fifth.. .. .. .. . 65.. .. .. .. 34

Sixth.. .. .. .. . 58.. .. .. .. 41

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