In a raucous debate in Baltimore City Council chambers last spring, the 2nd District delegation argued firmly to pass a redistricting plan they proclaimed would allow for the election of more blacks and candidates with no ties to the old-line political machines.
While there are high hopes that the 6th District will elect its first black council representatives in history, there are fears that the redistricting plan has weakened black voting strength in the 2nd District and that at least one black seat will be lost.
"I think that's a distinct possibility," said state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, a longtime representative of the district. "There are just a number of very good candidates, and there could be a split in votes between black and white challengers."
Politicians in the 2nd District -- a boot-shaped district with Berea in East Baltimore at the toe, Mount Vernon at the heel and Bolton Hill up the leg -- boast that their political clubs forged the city's first integrated ticket a quarter century ago. Since then the clubs have established guidelines by which they maintained their "coalition ticket" of two black candidates and one white.
When council incumbent Jacqueline F. McLean announced she was giving up her seat to run in the city-wide race for comptroller, the clubs scrambled to find a candidate to fill her spot on the ticket.
None of the clubs made it a secret that they preferred a black candidate.
But on Thursday night the Mount Royal Democratic Club endorsed two white candidates -- incumbent Anthony J. Ambridge and challenger Dr. Peter Beilenson of Johns Hopkins Hospital -- and one black candidate, incumbent Carl Stokes.
"Philosophically, we pick whoever we feel are the best candidates," said Mr. Lapides, often called the godfather of the Mount Royal Democratic Club. "Mr. Beilenson has brains, and hopefully he's going to be a thinker on the council. It has been like a herd of sheep for far too long."
Mr. Beilenson, who was moved out of the 3rd District after the passage of the redistricting plan, was a strong contender for a seat in the state House of Delegates last year.
And many speculate he could win a seat on the council because of his aggressive door-to-door campaign. And Mr. Stokes is the only black candidate who has been endorsed by all the district's political clubs.
"I'm very concerned because there could be a split in the vote," said state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., D-Baltimore. "And it has been a long, dull summer so there could be a lot of voter apathy in the African-American communities."
But leaders in the New Democratic Club, including City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and state Delegate Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, say they are determined not to lose any black representatives on the council.
To that end, they endorsed Mr. Stokes, Mr. Ambridge, and Paula Johnson Branch, a black East Baltimore community activist and longtime ally of mayoral candidate Clarence H. "Du" Burns.
Mr. Stokes, however, has so far refused to run with Mrs. Branch.
Instead he's written letters of support for upstart candidate Bernard Young, a 37-year-old East Baltimore man who has worked for the past four years as a community aide to Mr. Ambridge.
Challenger Pamela Carter, a longtime aide to Mr. Irby, has earned notice for her efforts to register voters throughout the district. At last count she had registered more than 900 new voters and Mr. Irby says, "If there's going to be a surprise victory in this race, it's going to be Pamela Carter."
Even without the support of incumbents or political clubs, candidates like homeless advocate Bea Gaddy and Leonard Cannady, a mayor's station worker, have encouraging support from residents in the district. But Mr. Cannady says his is a steep uphill battle -- with little money and organization. He blames it on Mr. Stokes, the primary author of the city's redistricting plan.
"I don't believe Carl protected our district," he said. "He allowed Mr. Beilenson to move into our district -- a white candidate with money. And he took out neighborhoods with a lot of black voters."
Under the Stokes plan, the black population in the 2nd District dropped from 72 percent to 68 percent because black communities in the Coldspring-Homestead-Montebello area were moved into the Third District.
Those neighborhoods are also high-voting precincts, and the percentage of black voters in the 2nd District fell from approximately 67 percent to 64 percent.
However, Mr. Stokes says that the majority of black voters -- along with white support of black candidates -- will sustain two black representatives in the council.
"If the goal of redistricting was to create opportunities for blacks to be elected in other districts, such as the 3rd," he said, "then we had to move black voters into that district, not just increase their black population."