City Council: Larger or Smaller?

May 22, 1991

Only two months after a bitter redistricting fight, the Baltimore City Council is at it again. Members have proposed three different plans to change the composition of the municipal legislative body: Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, would create 11 single-member districts, Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, favors nine two-member districts and Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, thinks that only two members, instead of three, should represent each of the current six districts.

None of these proposals has any real chance to appear as a charter amendment on the November ballot; there simply isn't enough time.

The Republican Party, however, has a shot with a petition drive this summer. It wants 18 single-member districts. But even if such a charter amendment ends up on the ballot, changing the City Council set-up is not that easy because political power and patronage are at stake.

We welcome all these proposals as attention-getters. Over the next few months, they should generate a heated public debate over the way the City Council works so that arguments of that debate could be studied by a commission rewriting the city's charter.

That commission, headed by the recently retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Harry A. Cole, is expected to conclude its work early next year. Its recommendations would then be subjected to voter approval in the 1992 elections.

We are convinced that the charter revision commission is the proper forum to consider changes in the city's current six-district system that has existed in various forms since 1923.

We say this particularly in view of the fact that Mr. Cunningham would also alter the manner in which the president of the council is selected. Perhaps the president should not be elected at-large but be chosen by the council itself, as he argues. But that only leads to far more complex and fundamental questions. Perhaps the whole Board of Estimates set-up should be changed as well. These are among the interwoven intricacies of the charter the Cole commission must examine..

Except for politicians immersed in the current city election, there is no life-threatening rush. None of the changes would become effective before 1995.

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