Council tries to mend fences on changing boundaries Redistricting plan is on tonight's agenda

March 21, 1991|By Ginger Thompson and Sandy Banisky

Despite the tough talk in public, members of the Baltimore City Council searched for compromise yesterday as they tried to ease the controversy over a redistricting plan that outraged communities in Northeast and South Baltimore and put racial politics at the center of the debate.

The redistricting plan was given preliminary approval Monday at a raucous meeting of the City Council and will be on the council's agenda again tonight.

Proposed by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, the controversial plan would create five majority black districts and leave only one -- East Baltimore's 1st District -- predominantly white.

"The outrage and the temper tantrums, I hope, are over," said CouncilPresident Mary Pat Clarke.

"People stepped back and said, 'Jeez, what did we say to one another?' " said Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th. "I don't think anybody is pleased with bashing each other. I don't think anybody meant for it to get as mean-spirited as it got."

Although Mr. Stokes says his plan probably would be amended before adoption, it still would be drastically different from the status quo plan already proposed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and all but shelved by the council Monday night.

Voting on the Stokes plan broke down largely along racial lines. All seven black members of the City Council supported it, along with three whites who represent majority black districts.

But yesterday, that acrimony seemed to be easing as council members caucused and phoned back and forth in an effort to appease council members who stand to lose politically important neighborhoods, while still preserving the Stokes plan's intent of increasing black representation and voting power.

"We're going to work frantically toward having a plan and a situation that everyone can feel comfortable with," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd. "But I think it is clear that's not the plan that was preliminarily approved" Monday night.

Mr. Stokes said that he was willing to make some adjustments to his plan and insisted that for the last two months he has told his council colleagues that he was going to try to come up with a plan to increase black populations in predominantly white districts -- particularly the 3rd and 6th, which have no black council representatives.

"They told me if they made their districts majority black, all the white taxpayers would leave the city," Mr. Stokes said. "I told them that we are moving the lines, not moving the people."

The councilman said that he demanded that the 3rd and 6th Districtrepresentatives step forward, accept black candidates on their ticket and work to change the attitudes of their constituents.

The answers he got did not satisfy him. For example, Mr. Stokes said yesterday that he offered to return Locust Point -- which would be moved into the 1st District -- to the 6th District if his colleagues agreed to fill their next council vacancy with a black candidate.

But neither Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi nor Councilman Edward L. Reisinger III would make a firm commitment, saying that the question was hypothetical because there were no vacancies in the 6th District. Adding a black would become a possibility, they said, only if their colleague, Mr. Murphy, were named a Baltimore District Court judge by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"How can we commit to someone when my colleague, Councilman Murphy, is still a councilman," Mr. Reisinger said. "My answer to them was that I couldn't make a commitment until I heard what's happening to Councilman Murphy."

If Mr. Murphy decided to remain on the council, Mr. DiBlasi says he could not make a flat promise of support for a black candidate for some future 6th District vacancy.

"I'm not going to compromise my principles to commit to something with a gun to my head," Mr. DiBlasi said. "I do not think it is right to be held up."

"I never used the redistricting plan as a gun," Mr. Stokes said. "As a friend, I told them that they could take some of the pressure off between the council and those threatening to sue us by agreeing to run a coalition ticket."

In the 3rd District, Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham said the council delegation had already agreed, before the redistricting controversy, to accept a black candidate to fill the vacancy that would be created if Mr. Landers ran for city comptroller, as he has announced he would do.

Yesterday, Mr. Cunningham said he "renewed and strengthened the commitment" to putting a black on the 3rd District ticket. But he said he was waiting for a commitment for the return of some of the 3rd District neighborhoods pulled out of the district on the proposed maps. The district's councilmen are worried about losing such Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods as Homeland and Harbel.

"They listen and walk away," Mr. Cunningham said of Mr. Stokes and his allies. "What we want in return is maintaining the integrity of the 3rd District neighborhoods."

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