3 plans proposed to revise districts for City Council

May 20, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Only two months after a bitter redistricting fight split the Baltimore City Council over realignment of the city's political boundaries, three new plans to force a redrawing of the map before the 1995 elections are scheduled for introduction tonight.

The sudden avalanche of new redistricting proposals apparently was precipitated by Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, who announced Friday he was planning to introduce a council resolution that would place a referendum for 11 single-member districts on the November ballot.

Mr. Cunningham, who bitterly denounced the redistricting plan adopted by the council March 23 -- saying it would be racially divisive without achieving racial fairness -- said cutting eight seats from the 19-member council would cut its operating cost and would not dilute black voting strength.

The new district boundaries, which were drafted by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, and passed after heated debate, divide the city into six three-member districts, four of which have clear black majorities. Blacks make up 59 percent of the Baltimore population.

"We have a predominantly black city and I see this leaving the council predominantly black, unlike the existing plan," Mr. Cunningham said. "The mayor has said from the beginning that the Stokes plan could lead to fewer black councilmen."

Mr. Cunningham's proposal also would give council members the power of choosing from their own ranks the council president, who under existing law is chosen by voters through a citywide election.

Also on Friday, two of Mr. Cunningham's colleagues, Mr. Stokes and Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, hurried in referendum proposals of their own.

Mr. Stokes, although he won the redistricting battle in March, is offering a new proposal that would create nine districts, each represented by two council members.

Mr. Ambridge is proposing a less radical alteration of the council, one that would have two members elected from each of the current six districts.

Mr. Stokes noted last night that the council was precluded from changing the number of members and districts, set under the city charter as three people in each of six districts -- but could seek a charter amendment to change them through the referendum process.

"I think more districts and smaller districts would serve the communities better," Mr. Stokes said.

Mr. Stokes, who made the defeat of old-line political clubs a rallying cry during his redistricting fight in March, said the dual-member districts in his new proposal offer better protection for constituents from the dominance of political organizations.

"With single-member districts, one person or one political club can be in control," Mr. Stokes said of the Cunningham plan. "I think the integrity is better in a multi-person district."

Peter N. Marudas, the mayor's executive assistant for intergovernmental relations, said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke prefers that any such changes in the council be addressed by a task force that earlier this year began to examine proposed revisions to the City Charter.

The task force, chaired by retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Harry A. Cole, is expected to produce recommendations next year.

The three proposals are only the latest in a long-running series of efforts to alter the structure of the council as a way of shifting political power in the city.

Already, the Maryland Republican Party is trying to collect 10,000 signatures by Aug. 12, in time to place a referendum requiring single-member districts by 1995 on the November ballot.

Republican leaders have said that single-member districts would give its candidates a better chance of getting elected to a council that has not had a Republican member since 1942.

The Republican plan has drawn support from Arthur W. Murphy, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Murphy, who said the redistricting plan passed in March is "adequate to meet our needs now," said he would oppose the new Stokes and Ambridge proposals because minorities have a harder time electing representatives to multi-member districts than they do in single-member districts.

"Any racial or ethnic minority within a multi-district plan, given Baltimore's voting patterns, is destined to be underrepresented until they reach 60 per cent of the population," Mr. Murphy said. "All the studies show that to be the case."

Mr. Murphy also said he believed that Mr. Cunningham's proposal to allow the council to choose its own president, rather than have the president run in a citywide election, was a slap at Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Mrs. Clarke, who saw the political division between herself and Mr. Cunningham widen during the March redistricting fight, said she did not consider Mr. Cunningham's proposal an act of reprisal.

But Mrs. Clarke, who in 1987 was forced to watch helplessly as Mr. Cunningham and other council rebels stripped her presidency of much of its powers on the day she took office, said she would resist any effort to allow the council to elect the president.

"I think the position needs to be elected by the people so the NTC person is directly responsible to the people," Mrs. Clarke said. "You don't want to give any one district that extra weight. My impression is that position would become beholden to the other council members."

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