Council coalition looks to elections New group seeks to push strong agenda.

March 28, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The City Council coalition that pushed through a controversial redistricting plan last week is planning to test its power on the streets of Baltimore.

Contending that the coalition is a political force to be reckoned with, its members plan to campaign for their re-election and for the election of candidates who share their vision of inclusiveness.

"We need a strong council that can put together an agenda on how to deal with problems facing the city, not just for next week, next month or next year, but for the next four or five years," said Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, who helped forge the coalition.

"We'll be messing around in other people's districts, supporting candidates who can add to our strength," said Stokes.

He said the coalition will work with organizations such as the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to elect candidates.

Stokes said the coalition may not back black candidates only.

"I've read where there is going to be 15 blacks elected to the council this year, but I don't think it's going to happen. At least that's not what the coalition is looking at," he said.

Stokes said the redistricting plan not only empowered blacks but also whites who were not part of the old-boy political network.

"I've gotten calls from white candidates who have thanked us for giving them the opportunity to run for public office on an even playing field . . . with machine-backed candidates," he said.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the coalition needs to help elect "the best and the brightest who can work together regardless of our differences. We are the beginning of a new generation of political leaders."

Councilman Lawrence A. Bell 3rd, D-4th, said, "When we were able to shape a redistricting plan that empowered all those who have been excluded over the years from real political participation, we sent a message with an exclamation point to the old-boy political network that their reign has ended." The coalition's redistricting plan created five councilmanic districts with black populations of 60 percent or larger and left one district with a majority white population. Under the old district lines, only three districts had majority black populations in a city that recent census figures show is 59 percent black.

Coalition members said their goal was to increase the opportunities to elect at least 10 black council members to the 19-member body this year.

Included in the new power bloc are the seven members of the African American Coalition -- Stokes; Bell; Sheila Dixon and Agnes Welch, both D-4th; Iris G. Reeves and Vera P. Hall, both D-5th; and Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd.

They were joined by white council members Clarke; Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd; Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th; and John A. Schaefer, D-1st.

In the 1987 municipal elections, Ambridge ran with Stokes on a coalition ticket formed by white and black political clubs in the 2nd District. Spector ran under similar circumstances on a ticket with Reeves and Hall in the 5th.

Schaefer joined the coalition during the redistricting fight.

Coalition members indicated their focus would be on the 3rd and 6th districts, which are still controlled by old-line white political clubs.

Council members from those districts fought unsuccessfully, and sometimes bitterly, to defeat the coalition's redistricting plan, which turned their predominantly white districts into majority black ones.

Frank X. Gallagher, longtime leader of the Gallagher-Coggins political organization in the 3rd, said the new redistricting plan did not damage the political clubs but damaged residents by dividing neighborhoods between different districts.

"The coalition was successful in the redistricting fight, but that is only one issue and not much of a track record," said Gallagher, a past council president who represented the 3rd for years. "I think they should worry about their own races in their own districts."

Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham said he and Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, both D-3rd, are committed to field a ticket with a black candidate.

"If the coalition still wants to take us on, fine. We'll win anyway," said Cunningham.

Harry J. McGuirk, leader of the Stonewall Democratic Club, which has controlled politics in the 6th for more than 40 years, said that "good candidates can win down here whether they are black or white. And the candidates Stonewall supports, be they black or white, will be good candidates. I'm not worried."

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