Sixth: Another Political Quake?

July 30, 1991

A political earthquake shifted a big chunk of South Baltimore to the First District this year. This was bad news for the Sixth District's three white City Council incumbents, Joseph J. DiBlasi, Timothy D. Murphy and Edward L. Reisinger. They lost the white neighborhoods that had enabled their Stonewall Democratic Club to monopolize power in the district for more than three decades.

Sixty percent of the voting-age population in the new Sixth District is black. The district's most striking characteristic is its nearly total absence of any middle class. With Federal Hill, the Inner Harbor and Ten Hills gone to other districts, the Sixth includes some of the poorest areas of the city.

It has every imaginable problem -- from pollution to prostitution. Political alienation is widespread: Many remaining white areas have actually had lower voting turnouts in past elections than black neighborhoods. Indeed, the predominantly white Curtis Bay and Brooklyn want to quit the city altogether and join Anne Arundel County.

Past efforts to elect a black councilman from the Sixth District were always stymied by the black community's inability to unite behind one or two candidates. Although belated coalition building attempts are being made by candidates Melvin L. Stukes, Rodney Orange and Arlene Fisher, some observers feel too many black contenders are again in the race. The disqualification of Shephard H. Burge Jr. removed a well-known Cherry Hill veteran, but Gwendolyn A. Johnson, a black Stonewall member, and Delano S. Bailey remain. Moreover, it is widely believed that Mr. Murphy, the white councilman, has always benefited from black voters' misconception that he is a member of a prominent black Cherry Hill family of the same name.

Two other white candidates are vying for black support. Edwin L. Smith, a surveyor, has won endorsements for his environmentalist program. He practices ecology by canvassing on a bicycle. Robert L. Simpson, an unemployed Hollins Market area resident, has been campaigning door-to-door since January. "I feel poor people should have a voice in City Hall," he says. "The people who represent us now, they represent big business."

If the turnout is as low as predicted, the new Sixth District offers the prospect of real tossups. We urge all candidates to concentrate on voter registration between now and the Aug. 12 deadline. They may need every vote they can get.

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