Negotiations broke down before vote Black-led coalition, white council members couldn't compromise.

March 21, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Hours of tense, closed-door negotiations between opposing forces in the City Council failed to produce a compromise that could have averted the fight over redistricting.

Shortly before Monday's council meeting, negotiations broke off between the black-led coalition and white council members from the 3rd and 6th districts. The impasse arose over the coalition's redistricting plan, which would remove political strongholds from the predominantly white 3rd and 6th districts and increase their black populations.

The coalition plan, the principal architect of which was Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, won preliminary approval Monday by a 10-7-2 vote. Name-calling and angry outbursts from both sides punctuated the meeting. The lingering animosity was expected to spill over to today's council meeting, when the plan could come up for a final vote.

An hour before Monday's council meeting, or about 4 p.m., Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, left a coalition caucus and delivered a succinct message to the 3rd and 6th Districts: There would be no compromise.

Armed with the 10 votes necessary to win approval of its plan, the coalition had decided that the time for talking was over.

Earlier, the coalition had offered to revise its plan, if the 3rd and the 6th would accept the following demands:

Each district's black population must be increased to 55 percent and blacks must be named to fill vacancies on tickets in the upcoming election.

The coalition was looking at a vacancy made possible by the decision of Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, D-3rd, to run for city comptroller. Another vacancy could exist if Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, is appointed to a District Court judgeship.

Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th, said: "We insisted that the two districts accept both of our demands because we wanted to ensure that a black could represent the 3rd and the 6th, not just for the next four years, but for years after that."

Councilmen Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham and Martin E. "Mike" Curran, both D-3rd, said they agreed to take a black on their ticket and asked for some names from which to choose. But they were not willing to make that choice until after a redistricting plan was adopted. They did not want any major changes in the district's population or boundaries.

Councilmen Joseph J. DiBlasi and Edward L. Reisinger, both D-6th, agreed to change their district's boundaries to bring the percentage of black population up to 55 percent. But they didn't want to lose Locust Point and the rest of the South Baltimore peninsula. The coalition's plan would move the entire peninsula into the 1st District.

"We couldn't make a guaranteed commitment to run with a black on our ticket because Tim [Murphy] hadn't told us if he would run for re-election should the judgeship fall through," said DiBlasi. "If he runs, we have to run with him. To the extent we could make a commitment to run with a black, we did."

Late Monday afternoon, Murphy told coalition members that he intended to run for re-election if he did not get the judgeship. A short time later, negotiations between the coalition and the two districts halted.

Baltimore is 59 percent black, but there are only seven blacks on the 19-member council. The coalition maintains that blacks are underrepresented on the council and its plan would increase the chances of electing more black council members.

To achieve the objective, the coalition plan would change the predominantly white 3rd District to a district with a 60 percent black population. The 3rd also would lose the Harford-Belair roads corridor, a power base for the district's white political clubs.

The 6th, another white majority district, would become 68 percent black. Increases in the black populations in the 3rd and the 6th would cause five of the six councilmanic districts to have majority black populations.

The coalition's proposal would dramatically change the redistricting plan proposed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. In Schmoke's plan, the 3rd would remain a majority white district and the 6th would become roughly 50-50 black and white. Critics of the mayor's plan say it does not go far enough to ensure increased black representation on the council.

lTC Stokes said the coalition was pushed into a political showdown with the 3rd and 6th.

"Even faced with the reality of the plan, they [the 3rd and 6th districts] were still unwilling to accept the kind of majority black population in their districts that would give voters the chance to elect a black," said Stokes, the architect of the coalition plan. "We felt they would only budge when faced with the even harsher reality of the plan heading for final adoption."

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