Redrawn districts complicate the lives of council hopefuls

March 25, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

Bea Gaddy, the longtime activist for the homeless in Southeast Baltimore, had the bumper stickers for her City Council campaign printed up last month.

"Bea Gaddy for City Council, 1st District," the stickers say.

But last week the city adopted a new redistricting plan that moves Ms. Gaddy into the 2nd District, leaving her and several other political hopefuls to re-evaluate their plans to run for City Council.

Some prospective candidates view the altered districts as giving them a better chance of winning a seat. But others say the plan forces them to restart their campaigns and separates them from neighborhoods where they had established support.

"I've worked in the 1st District for years, and this is where I'm known," said Ms. Gaddy, a Butcher's Hill resident. "People say I should be happy about the move to the 2nd because more blacks are there who would vote for me. But I did not count on black people voting for me. I counted on getting votes from blacks and whites."

The new map -- which creates five majority-black districts and leaves one with a white majority -- was adopted by the City Council on Friday. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had designed a plan for redrawing the city's district boundaries that preserved more of the status quo, but he abandoned his plan and signed the City Council plan Saturday morning.

Proponents of the adopted plan, introduced by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, say it will shake up political machines that have controlled selection of candidates for decades. They hope it will give blacks strength to win more seats.

Ms. Gaddy says that what the 1st District needs is neither a black nor a white candidate, but one to address the problems of the poor.

"I may be out of the 1st District race, but I still have connectionsthere, and I'm going to do everything I can to defeat the current council members there," she said, singling out Councilmen John A. Schaefer and Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro.

Peter Beilenson, a Guilford resident who intended to run for a City Council seat in the 3rd District, saw those goals crushed when he was shifted into the 2nd.

Since December, Dr. Beilenson had been attending various neighborhood association meetings and held campaign meetings every two weeks. He had gotten people to agree to put signs in their yards and to serve as precinct captains.

"You can't start a City Council campaign in April," said Dr. Beilenson, a public health physician who had run a strong race for a seat in the House of Delegates last year. "Now I have to sit and seriously consider whether I will run in the 2nd."

But he also acknowledged that the new redistricting plan did offer opportunities for the election of candidates not affiliated with powerful political clubs.

That's why Bruce Culotta of Locust Point is considering a run for the City Council.

Mr. Culotta, head of the Coalition of Peninsula Organizations, ran three years ago for a seat in the 6th District. But under the new city map, he was moved into the 1st District.

"When I ran before, I got this call from the Stonewall Democratic Club telling me to step back and not torock the boat," he said, referring to the South Baltimore political organization. "I ran anyway, but I was defeated.

"I think the new plan will make Stonewall a lot less powerful because they lost a lot of their strong neighborhoods," he added.

L Rodney A. Orange certainly hopes that theory proves correct.

The Franklin Square resident said he intends to run for a seat in the 6th District and also hopes to cultivate votes from the district's increased black population.

"The Stokes plan gives me a better opportunity to obtain a seat," said Mr. Orange, a steelworker who heads the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's political action committee. "It adds neighborhoods like Lafayette Square and Harlem Park to the 6th, and I have some name recognition there."

But Harlem Park, which has beenmoved from the 4th to the 6th District, may support a home-grown candidate. Arlene Fisher, head of the Harlem Park Community Association, says her group feels the best way to ensure that they will get attention in their new district is to elect one of their neighbors.

"I haven't decided yet to run," said Ms. Fisher, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in the 4th District three years ago. "But the community has asked me, and I'm listening. We have always been a strong voting neighborhood."

Perry Sfikas, who announced two weeks ago that he would run for a City Council seat in the 1st District, also feels that the Stokes plan strengthens his campaign.

"The mayor's plan left the good ol' boys' system intact," he said. "Now we got Locust Point and part of Northeast Baltimore. Those areas are open to anyone."

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