Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke abandoned yesterday his own plan for redrawing the city's councilmanic district boundaries, quietly putting his signature instead on the dramatically different map that was adopted Friday after a week of heated debate by the City Council.
"It's time to begin the process of healing and unifying our city," Mr. Schmoke said in a three-sentence press release, issued with none of the ceremony that usually accompanies such a major decision.
The plan creates five majority black districts and leaves only one -- Southeast Baltimore's 1st District -- with a white majority. It was adopted by the City Council after a week of backroom negotiations in which council members fought to maintain their most politically powerful neighborhoods.
Earlier last week the mayor made it clear that he was unhappy with the way the plan had been maneuvered through the City Council and warned council members that it could cause an uproar in affected communities.
Yesterday morning, however, with unexpected speed, he signed the redistricting plan.
"I signed it first thing this morning," he said at an appearance in lower Charles Village yesterday afternoon. "I reviewed it, signed it and said let's begin healing the city."
The mayor added that he had asked the city solicitor to assemble a team of lawyers to defend the plan, introduced by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, if challenged.
"I think it is clear that the city as a whole supports this plan," said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th. "I know that the black leadership supports it and the community feels it finally got a fair shake. And I'm sure those messages have also gotten to the mayor.
"I commend him for doing the right thing."
Two months ago, the mayor had proposed a redistricting plan that made few boundary changes and left the city with the same three majority black districts it had.
Various groups, including the NAACP, vowed to take his plan to court if adopted because they said it did not increase opportunities for blacks to win seats on the city council. The council also heard warnings from various legal experts that his plan could be defeated in court.
So a council coalition -- including all seven black members and three white representatives -- began working on another plan. It was introduced Monday.
The most controversial aspects of the council's plan moved the southern peninsula of Locust Point from the 6th District to the 1st, and North Baltimore's Homeland community from the 3rd District to the 5th. The 3rd District lost many of the neighborhoods in the Belair-Harford Road corridor, known as Harbel.
Last-minute negotiations with the coalition allowed the 3rd District to win back the northern tip of Harbel. No compromises were made with the 6th District delegation. They were the only delegation to vote against the plan, and had intended to seek a mayoral veto. Yesterday they expressed surprise and anger at the mayor's hasty adoption.
"The mayor had an opportunity to shoot down that Scud missile with his own Patriot missile but the Patriot misfired," said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th. "The Scud has hit and communities affected are devastated."
Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, D-3rd, said the mayor "was under great pressure because he was put into a position that made it appear he was not sympathetic to the black community."
Mayor Schmoke said he hoped that now that he had signed the bill, the city would look ahead and begin mending fences. Council President Mary Pat Clarke agreed.
"Who couldn't sign such a promising plan?" she said. "It was hyped all out of proportion by the endangered politicians. But it's time to set the rhetoric aside and say, 'Look we've got to work together.'"