Earlier this year, when black political strategists began redrawing the borders of Baltimore City's six councilmanic districts, one realization sank in quickly: there would be little chance for increasing black representation on the City Council unless the white politicians' traditional hold on the Third District was broken. As a result, the Third's borders were pushed south to include more black neighborhoods while predominantly white communities along Harford and Belair roads were transferred to the First District.
The theory was that if those well-organized, high-voting, largely Irish and Italian strongholds were removed, the white incumbents would have a more difficult time getting re-elected.
This theory will be tested in the Sept. 12 primary, in which 13 Democrats are vying for nominations for the three seats. Among them are eight black candidates as well as two white incumbents, Martin E. "Mike" Curran and Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham. (Incumbent Joseph T. "Jody" Landers is running for comptroller).
The key question now is: will those black contenders split the black vote, helping three white males to capture the Democratic nomination?
This is a real possibility. The district's blacks have never before voted strictly along racial lines and are unlikely to do so now.
Some remarkably qualified candidates, black and white, are running for office in the new Third. Most are campaigning hard, adding to the element of surprise at the polls.
When the Ramblewood Community Association recently had its candidates' night, 11 of the 13 Democrats and one of the three Republicans showed up. Schools, crime and neighborhood cleanliness were among the top issues as they spoke and answered questions.
Aside from the incumbents, other candidates boast government experience. Kevin O'Keeffe, after writing a book about Baltimore politics, worked on Mayor Kurt Schmoke's staff; George Brent worked for City Council President Mary Pat Clarke; Linda C. Janey serves on the school board; Maegertha Whitaker is a member of the Democratic State Central Committee; Nina Harper and Sylvia A. Williams are active in political clubs and community organizations, and Martin O'Malley narrowly lost his state Senate bid last year. It is a promising crop of candidates. Northeast Baltimore's Third District may see this election's most interesting and toughest councilmanic contest.