Black majority not likely for years Redistricting plan may not change council right away.

March 21, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

Although a redistricting plan crafted by a black-led coalition could give blacks a majority of City Council seats, that development appears years away, says a supporter of the blueprint.

"This year, I think we'll pick up two black seats in the city, one in the 3rd District and one in the 6th," says Arthur Murphy, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We'll probably then pick up two more seats. But remember, this is a plan designed for the next 12 years."

If Murphy is right about the plan that could receive final approval today in the council, the city's legislative body would still have a 10-member white majority for the 1991-1995 term. Currently, seven of the 19 council members are black.

Murphy said Baltimore's black community has a history of electing white representatives when they feel those representatives are best qualified for the office. He said he expects the pattern to continue, even in the districts where the plan would create substantial black majorities.

Currently, there are white representatives in the 2nd and 5th districts, even though the populace in those districts is about 70 percent black.

If Murphy's assessment holds, then Baltimore may not see a repeat of a scene when Paul Krawczyk angrily stomped out of City Hall, saying that the redistricting plan tentatively approved by the council Monday leaves little room in municipal politics for him and many other whites.

"This plan cuts us out absolutely," said Krawczyk, an East Baltimore resident. "Whites are represented in only one of the city's three highest offices. Now we will be out of the council. We want a mixture."

Krawczyk says the new district lines drawn by the council plan could lead to 15 of the city's 19 council members being black.

The plan was submitted by Councilman Carl Stokes amid criticism of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's districting plan. Stokes and some other black council members said the Schmoke plan would not allow blacks fair representation on the council.

Schmoke and some of his political supporters have hinted that the Stokes plan could actually cause black representation on the council to decrease because it weakens the black voting base in the 2nd District.

They explain that high voting black precincts are removed from the 2nd District under the Stokes plan, creating the possibility that whites could win two of the district's three seats. They envision a similar scenario in northwest Baltimore's 5th District.

Meanwhile, they say, the black voter increases in the 3rd and 6th districts may not be sufficient to meet the goal of electing blacks in those districts.

"It's a plan that from the black perspective gives up safety and a chance of improvement for a lot of risk," said Daniel P. Henson, a developer and close political confidant of the mayor.

"This does not do what it is purported to do, which is increase black representation," he continued. "When you look up in December and see five blacks on the council, some of us are going to say 'I told you so.' "

Murphy of the NAACP disagreed.

"There is always a possibility of anything, but the probability is that you are going to have an increase in black council representation," he said.

Council members who support the Stokes plan said that they expect anywhere between "nine and 13" black council members to be elected if it goes into effect.

"The key is that people have to organize, get out there and campaign," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th.

Schmoke questioned whether the Stokes plan is worth the uproar that it is causing.

"I hope the proponents of this are not selling this as a guarantee, because people will end up frustrated. Maps don't elect people," he said. "Good organizations do."

But advocates of the Stokes plan say anything less than what their plan proposes would maintain the status quo -- which leaves blacks, the city's majority, holding a minority of City Council seats.

"What are we to do about organizations that will not put black people on their tickets?" said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, adding that the dominant political organizations in mostly white council districts have no history of supporting black council candidates.

"Talk abut fairness. We play fair down our way. It takes time to do things. We are headed in the right direction," said state Sen. George Della, D-City, a political power in South Baltimore.

"This is about power-sharing," said Stokes, the plan's architect. "There are, unfortunately, districts and organizations in the city that won't let that happen with the current district lines."

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