Election results indicate changes due to redistricting Lessening influence of political clubs may be biggest change.

September 16, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff Patrick Gilbert contributed to this story.

For all the furor over the redistricting plan, the likely additio of just one black member to the City Council after Thursday's primary election might seem a small gain toward the goal of the plan's supporters -- dramatic increases in black representation.

But the redistricting plan had a second objective, one that supporters believe came closer to being achieved: overcoming the influence of local political clubs.

Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, the architect of the redistricting plan that was approved last March, drew as much significance from who lost as from who won.

In the 6th District, a black candidate bumped an appointed incumbent endorsed by the predominantly white Stonewall Democratic Club. In the 1st District, the three white winners triumphed over the slate endorsed by the 1st District Democratic Organization, which included two long-time incumbents. And in the 3rd District, where the two club-associated incumbents won, the highest vote-getter was an independent.

Stokes said these results show that redistricting has gone far toward the goal of opening the districts to candidates who are independent of the clubs he disparages as "machines."

"I think it's a new era," he said. "People don't vote generally by the machines any more."

The Stokes plan tipped the racial population balance among the six councilmanic districts from three majority-black districts to five. If the Democrats who won the primary succeed in the general election -- as likely they will in overwhelmingly Democratic Baltimore -- black representation on the council will increase from seven to eight among the 18 members elected from districts.

This may well be a new era, but Councilman Wilbur "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, who was nominated for another term, doesn't think it's necessarily a better one. He viewed the Stokes plan as a blow to racial harmony and to neighborhood associations, which in some cases were split by the plan.

"What redistricting did was raise the whole specter of race again," said Cunningham, who opposed the plan in the initial test votes on the council. "Instead of talking about issues, candidates were talking about race."

And among dismembered neighborhood associations, Cunningham said, voters took out their frustrations on incumbents such as John A. Schaefer and Dominic Mimi DiPietro, who voted for the Stokes plan.

Schaefer, ousted after 20 years, acknowledged that the redistricting issue had done him in. The break-up of his old territory moved about 3,200 votes that would have been his into another district, he said. And many voters who were switched from other districts, "were looking for a scapegoat, and we were it," Schaefer said.

Two precincts among those that were redistricted from the 3rd to the 1st, show the trend against the club slate of Schaefer, DiPietro and Joseph R. Ratajczak.

In Precinct 26 in Gardenville, incumbent Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., an independent who opposed the Stokes plan, won 227 votes. And Perry Sfikas and John Cain, who also won, received 206 and 118 votes, respectively. Schaefer got only 86 votes, DiPietro 93 and Ratajczak 60.

The trend was similar in Precinct 11 in the Harford-Belair roads corridor, where the votes were: D'Adamo, 152; Sfikas, 128; Cain, 189; Schaefer, 39, DiPietro, 49; and Ratajczak, 21.

Schaefer was still a bit shocked that Cain, a Canton activist and editor of a community newspaper, won in the district with hardly a sign or a billboard promoting his candidacy. "He just walked around," said Schaefer incredulously.

Schaefer said his club would keep meeting. But the losses of candidates from his and other clubs suggests that this election "opens a new era of politics," he said.

Edward L. Reisinger, a club-endorsed candidate in the 6th, blamed his loss on disparities in voter turnout and on the lack of any close challenger to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"I don't think redistricting was a factor in the loss," Reisinger said, citing a low turnout in many white precincts. "A lot of people I talked to said, 'Hey look, Schmoke's going to win. No one's going to beat him. No sense going to vote.' "

In black neighborhoods of the 6th, such as Cherry Hill, voters saw redistricting as a chance to elect a black candidate, Reisinger said. And they did, providing the margin of victory for Melvin L. Stukes despite his low vote totals in white areas.

One way of looking at the effect of redistricting in the 6th is to consider whether the pattern of white neighborhoods voting almost exclusively for white candidates would have held up in the 14 predominantly white precincts of South Baltimore and Locust Point, which were redistricted from the 6th into the 1st. Had they remained in the 6th, these precincts might easily have gone for Reisinger, who trailed Stukes overall by only 730 votes.

In the 3rd, which supporters of redistricting hoped would supply a new black council member, black voting power appears to have been dispersed among several strong black candidates.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, part of the coalition that pushed the Stokes plan, said some of those black candidates in the 3rd should have dropped out to allow black support to coalesce around a winner.

However, in passing the plan, "we also said this was not going to happen overnight," she said, but over several elections. Dixon said the new era would not arrive, the goal of redistricting would not be achieved, until black representation on the council reaches "at least 12."

New era or not, Schaefer, the 20-year incumbent who lost in the 1st, said the newcomers with big ideas will find "a different ballgame" when they get to the council. "They'll find they have to take care of people," he said.

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