Payback Time -- Part Two

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

March 26, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

In the City Council last night, Martin E. "Mike" Curran stalked over to Joseph A. DiBlasi's seat on the council floor and demanded in a stage whisper, "You gonna sleep with them? Sleep with these sleazes?"

DiBlasi, D-6th, ducked his head as if Curran, D-3rd, were pummeling him about the shoulders.

"Sleep with what sleazes?" weakly asked DiBlasi, D-6th.

"Them!" said Curran, sweeping his hand across the council chambers where his colleagues milled about. Then, apparently overcome with disgust, Curran spun on his heel and stalked back to his seat.

"Hey," pleaded DiBlasi, spreading his arms and speaking to Curran's departing back, "I just don't care."

In the end, DiBlasi "slept with the sleazes" and got a council chairmanship for his efforts. More power to him.

Curran, for all his bluster, kept his chairmanship of the Policy and Planning Committee. More's the pity.

Last night was Payback Time. Payback Time -- Part Two.

There were winners and losers last night just as there were winners and losers when the council debated a redistricting map last week during Payback Time -- Part One.

But don't let anyone tell you that either night marked dark and ugly times for Baltimore. Sometimes payback can be cathartic.

Three years ago, the council stripped Council President Mary Pat Clarke of one of her most powerful prerogatives -- the ability to appoint committee chairmen. They did this on Clarke's inaugural night, usually a time reserved for ceremony and celebration.

It was an ugly moment, and Clarke made it clear last night that she never forgot. She said she took the attack on her powers three years ago as a personal affront to herself, to her family and to women.

"This is only about my family's name and my right as a woman in this chair to have the same rights and responsibilities that every other person in this chair has had," she said, her face turning red with emotion.

"This is about power. This is about my rights as a woman. I want it now."

And so, last night Clarke unmercifully wielded her other powers as council president until she got what she wanted.

Her opponents (all of whom, coincidentally, are white men) spluttered and protested and bleated that life was unfair before they went down to defeat.

"We're talking about healing wounds," whined Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, D-3rd. "We're talking about fairness. I ask, where's the fairness in this?"

The same council members made the same lament last week when their colleagues pushed through a new redistricting map that would create black majorities in five of the six councilmanic districts.

Of course, there was no talk of healing or of fairness when blacks and women in the 1st, 3rd and 6th Districts complained for years that they felt locked out by the good old boys who run the political clubs.

And concern about Clarke's treatment on her inaugural night, if any, had been extraordinarily muted until now.

Why is it that we can only feel the pain when white men are aggrieved?

So, we have seen the power shift in Baltimore these past few days. The white men who run, and who have always run, the 1st, 3rd and 6th districts, are suffering the agonies of change.

It is Payback Time.

But there is this very important difference about the current brand of payback: The old order practiced exclusion. The architects of this new Baltimore seem relentlessly inclusive.

"I expect now to see coalition politics in the 3rd or 6th districts -- that is the goal," said Carl Stokes, D-2nd, about the expected effect of his redistricting map. "But there will be some who will be so resistant and hateful that they will lose everything. We'll work with those who can adapt and say good riddance to those who can't."

And last night, one of Clarke's staunchest opponents, Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, rose with a hangdog expression and asked if her victory meant he would lose his chairmanship of the Taxation and Finance Committee.

Immediately, Vera Hall, D-5th, one of Clarke's longtime allies, made it clear that she was prepared to resign her committee chairmanship in protest of any retaliation against Murphy.

"As far as I'm concerned," said Clarke smiling, "Mr. Murphy can keep his chairmanship for as long as he wants it."

These aren't like the old days.

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