Outraged citizens pack hearing Locust Point makes its point about the redistricting plan.

March 20, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

Susan Taylor was in her Locust Point home tucking her two young daughters into bed when the phone rang.

"It was a friend," Taylor said yesterday, swinging her TOGOM (That Old Gang of Mine) club jacket over her shoulder as her daughters played in the City Council chambers. "She said, 'They are moving our council district. Let's get a bus and go up there and protest.' "

Taylor, whose family has lived in the South Baltimore neighborhood for three generations, said the redistricting plan is serious business in Locust Point. She stayed up until 1 a.m. relaying the word by phone to others in the neighborhood. And many of them made the trip to City Hall yesterday.

Taylor was among dozens of Locust Point residents who converged yesterday on City Hall. About 250 outraged citizens from other parts of the city went to the hearing to voice opposition to the plan, which the council tentatively approved Monday night.

The protesters said it was important to register her opposition to the council's redistricting plan because their council representatives are very responsive.

"We are a strong community. We fight our own battles," said Betty Brown, a school bus driver who took half a day off to attend the hearing. "I've seen council members in our district respond to people on Easter Day. Willie Myers [the late councilman] would get up from his supper table to help people. I don't want to lose our councilmen."

The council's redistricting plan creates five council districts with substantial black majorities -- which, its backers say, would greatly enhance the chances of increasing black representation on the City Council. The only district with a white majority under the plan would be the 1st. The council has until March 28 to act on the plan.

Seven of the current council's 19 members are black, while the city's black population is 59.2 percent.

Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, architect of the council's plan, said the issue's largest element is really fairness. And, in this case, that has to do with blacks getting their full share of political power in Baltimore.

"We need to share power. That is what this plan is about," he said, pointing out that for years political organizations in the city's three mostly white districts have refused to support black City Council candidates.

Likewise, whites rarely have voted for black council candidates in those districts over the years.

But black council representation was not high on the priority lists of many of the people who testified at yesterday's nearly five-hour hearing.

"If the black community wants to get people in office they ought to put them up and support them," said Bryan Moorhouse, part owner and editor of the Baltimore Enterprise, a South Baltimore community newspaper.

He said his phones were "ringing all morning" with people upset about the council's action. "It seems like everyone is waiting around for an appointment," Moorhouse said.

Many people who testified were concerned about being thrown into new council districts and being separated from political coalitions that have existed for decades. They also complained that the plan was sprung on them with little notice.

"This was railroaded through without a chance for those who are affected to understand what's going on," said Betty Macioch, a 60-ish woman who said she has lived on the same South Baltimore street her entire life. "What people don't understand, they fear."

Former Council President Frank X. Gallagher, a longtime political power broker in northeast Baltimore's 3rd District, said the plan could accelerate middle-class flight from the already financially ailing city. The plan would move much of the city's northeast corridor from the 3rd to the 1st District.

"This plan, if adopted, is going to have a very devastating impact," he said. "The people up there are as mobile as anybody."

But one person who supported the plan was Melvin Moore, who has lived in the city for 20 years and said he remembers getting little satisfaction from his white council representatives.

"I commend you all for your courageous action," he said. "I'm in favor of what you've done. I think a lot of what I heard tonight was people reacting to being thrown out of power."

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