A bid to reduce the number of Annapolis City Council districts from eight to six has failed to win the support of an advisory panel that will recommend new political boundaries.
The city's redistricting committee, expected to send its proposal to the City Council by year's end, voted, 8-2, Tuesday night against a six-ward council.
Carol Gerson, the committee's vice chair, and member James R. Martin Jr. had suggested asking aldermen to consider reducing the numberof wards to six, with one or two aldermen in each ward.
Gerson and Martin said ensuring fair representation for blacks, a third of thecity's population, would prove simpler with six wards if blacks enjoyed large majorities in two of them.
Martin also said the move also would lead to a more efficient council, greater access to the government for citizens and more accountability among aldermen.
But other committee members argued that redrawing boundary lines in the nextfive months would be a tough enough challenge and that creating a six-ward council would complicate matters.
"To get into a shift in the number of wards at this time would just disrupt the process," saidJohn Prehn, the committee's chairman. "I just think we got plenty todo to come up with a plan for eight wards."
Prehn also questionedwhether a six-ward plan would improve black representation.
Even with black majorities exceeding 70 percent in two wards, he said, "There's no way to assure having two blacks on a six-member council. They could well lose out, and instead of having two of eight, have only one of six."
But while the committee rejected the six-ward proposal, members agreed to send the City Council a "minority report" on theplan along with the committee's proposed new boundaries.
Also Tuesday night, the committee heard testimony from several black leaders,who urged "affirmative opportunity" in new political boundaries and promised a legal battle if they don't get it.
Black leaders criticized two scenarios prepared by the city administration, saying both would diminish black voting strength considerably, but committee members called the maps merely "talking papers" that carry no weight.
Both scenarios would place the city's only 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 of the scenarios also would remove two black strongholds, the Harbour House and Eastport Terrace public housing complexes, from Ward 6.
Black leaders said the move would kill a black candidate's chances in Ward 6. There, Michael T. Brown, a black who heads 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 Annapolis-based Black Political Forum, said black leaders would fight to keep Gilmer and Snowden in separatewards and to keep the public housing complexes in Ward 6.
"I'd like to introduce a new term to the committee: affirmative opportunity," Bracy said. "You should give the African-American community affirmative opportunity. You have an opportunity to be fair, and you have anopportunity to avoid future legal actions."
Bracy said the Black Political Forum plans to propose new boundary lines, and committee members agreed to review the group's proposal.
Members also pledged to ensure fair representation for blacks, strive to create two wards with at least 70 percent black majorities and avoid dividing communities along ward lines.
The black population in both Ward 3 and Ward5 dropped below 70 percent between 1980 and last year. Citywide, blacks number 10,959, accounting for 33 percent of the population, down from 35 percent in 1980.
Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins appointed the redistricting committee, but 11 of its 13 members had been recommended by aldermen. Beyond providing technical help from the city's planning office, Hopkins has adopted a hands-off approach, instructing the committee only to be fair and ensure adequate minority representation indrawing new ward lines.