Black Leaders Focus On Redistricting Plans

July 23, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

Black leaders in Annapolis say they plan an aggressive lobbying effort to ensure that new political boundaries don't dilute black voting strength.

As a city advisory panel prepares to hear public testimony tonight on redrawing political boundaries, black representation isexpected to dominate debate.

The 13-member redistricting committee, appointed by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, has just begun reviewing two possible scenarios for new council districts drawn up by the administration.

By year's end, the committee plans to recommend specific boundaries to the City Council, which must approve any changes.

But while the maps remain tentative, they have alarmed some black leaders, who say the plans likely would mean the loss of a black representative on the City Council.

Both plans would:

* Preserve two majority black wards among the eight City Council districts. The Annapolis-based Black Political Forum plans to lobby for a third.

* Place the city's two black aldermen -- Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, and Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3 -- in Ward 3, leaving no incumbent in Ward 5.

One plan, however, would remove two black strongholds -- the Harbour House and Eastport Terrace public housing communities -- from Ward 6.

That would considerably diminish a black candidate's chances of victory in a ward where Michael Brown, a black activist who now serves as chairman of the city's Democratic Central Committee, lost by only four votes in 1989 to Republican Wayne C. Turner, who is white.

Lewis Bracy, chairman of the Black Political Forum, accused the Hopkins administration of mounting a "deliberate and concerted effort" to prevent blacks from winning city elections and protect white incumbents' seats.

"There's clearlyan effort here to keep blacks out and to eliminate any threat to white candidates," Bracy said.

The Black Political Forum plans to present an alternative redistricting plan, he said.

Attorneys from the state chapter of the NAACP also have begun reviewing the city's plans, Bracy said.

Snowden, who filed a federal lawsuit that forced the city to redraw political boundaries in 1985 to comply with the Voting Rights Act, also criticized the plans.

"Both of these proposals would do serious harm to the empowerment of blacks," he said. "And both would reduce black representation significantly."

But Teresa Dowd, a city planner working with the committee, called the plans tentative "talking papers" that carry no weight.

She said the committee is aiming for two wards with at least 70 percent black populations.

But that would take some reshuffling and almost definitely put the city's two black aldermen in the same ward, she said.

The blackpopulation in both Ward 3 and Ward 5 dropped below 70 percent between 1980 and last year. Citywide in 1990, the black population of 10,959 accounted for 33 percent of the total population, down from 35 percent in 1980.

Dowd said the redistricting committee wants to hear from as many citizens and community groups as possible.

"The driving mechanism is keeping a balance between the black and white populations, and we want to hear from the Black Political Forums and NAACPs,"Dowd said.

"Maybe they have some better ideas than we do."

Theredistricting committee's public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 tonight in City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street.

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