. . . What's the excitement about?

Michael A. Fletcher

March 25, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher

Redrawing the lines of Baltimore's six City Council districts is a process that affects politicians and their political fiefdoms far more than it does on any of their constituents.

But to listen to the anguished cries of politicians whose political oxen are being gored by the plan drawn by the council's seven black members, one would think that the plan was an attack on Baltimore's white middle-class population.

The opponents say Baltimore's middle class will flee the city even faster if five of the city's six council districts have black voting majorities, as they would under the plan. Some elected officials even have urged secession from the city if the plan goes into effect.

Those are divisive arguments that are inflaming racial tension in a city where race most often is an issue that is kept below the surface. But the issue would not be as divisive if opponents would tell the truth: that individual politicians, not classes of people, will be the winners and losers in the redistricting process.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case. For instance, Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd, points out that his district includes some of the city's best taxpayers. He says the city stands to lose them if this plan goes through. He was backed in that argument by former Councilman Frank X. Gallagher, a longtime political power in Northeast Baltimore.

Gallagher said that the plan would spark "chaos and turmoil." It would cause people in Northeast Baltimore to sell homes, producing a glut on the housing market, lowering property values and, ultimately, deepening the city's fiscal problems.

That reasoning is dangerous. It somehow assumes that a three-member council delegation would be unable to serve the middle class if it included one black representative (the plan's likely outcome in the 3rd District). It implies that blacks don't have middle-class concerns.

The argument also ignores the reality of the City Council. Council members mainly handle constituent complaints. They spend much of their time prodding the city bureaucracy to remove tree stumps, fill pot holes, clean alleys or fix street lights.

Does anybody really think this will change with greater black representation? Will a black council member ignore his white constituents and serve only blacks? Does being black automatically mean that one has no interest in things middle-class?

The answers are no, no and no. What really changes under the plan are the faces of people calling the political shots in council districts. And Gallagher and Curran and the others most upset with the plan are the ones whose power would be stripped.

Obviously, they have a right not to like that. But they should offer honest arguments.

Talk about how the plan splits long-allied communities. Talk about how white councilmen serve all their constituents (They do. And most of them get many black votes). Even argue whether more black councilmen will make a difference in the life of Baltimore.

"Political leaders should not fuel the fires of discontent," said Rodney A. Orange, a black who plans to run for council in the 6th District.

"Nobody expects them to give away power. But the question to ask is whether this plan is the fair and right thing to do when you look at the majority of the city."

Michael A. Fletcher is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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