Black leaders threaten redistricting lawsuit

January 09, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- A coalition of black political and community leaders rejected Gov. William Donald Schaefer's new election district map yesterday with a tart promise:

"See you in court!"

Unless the plan is substantially altered, coalition spokesmen said at a news conference yesterday, the group will ask the U.S. Department of Justice to overturn it and sue if that request fails.

The governor's plan, introduced yesterday, becomes effective in 45 days unless the General Assembly adopts an alternative.

As shaped by the Governor's Advisory Committee on Redistricting, the plan cushions the shock of population shifts on Baltimore by making the city part of a region with Baltimore County.

The two jurisdictions will share five districts, including a new minority-dominated district that extends along the Liberty Road corridor west of the city.

About 20 percent of the district is comprised of city residents.

The Schaefer proposal adopts about 90 percent of the advisory panel's recommendations. A map with sufficient detail to show the new boundaries was not available yesterday.

Although most legislators would make one change or another, many senators and delegates are resigned to the plan.

The organization of black interests was not.

"It does not give equity," said John L. Wright of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"It does not give justice to the African-American community."

Mr. Wright said the plan falls most lamentably short in Prince George's County but could also be improved in almost every part of the state, he said.

In some cases, coalition members said, black voters had a better chance of electing black candidates before the new maps were drawn. Black voting strength was diluted, they said, by packing large numbers of blacks into a few districts and minimizing their influence in others.

"Instead of moving forward, we're sliding backward," said Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's.

While the governor's plan creates 27 districts favorable to black delegate candidates and nine for black senators, the coalition said the governor could have created as many as 12 black Senate districts and 39 delegate districts.

Mr. Trotter said his group tried to convince the governor to make the changes without success.

The Maryland attorney general's office has advised Governor Schaefer and his advisory committee that, as a rule of thumb, minority districts had to be drawn under the law when the population warranted.

No plan that dilutes minority voting strength would be acceptable under the Voting Rights Act of 1964, according to the state's legal advisers.

However, the attorney general advised that if whites and blacks have not been polarized historically -- with both races refusing to vote for the other -- then the requirement to create minority districts may be less strictly applied.

Pamela J. Kelly, the governor's staff adviser on redistricting, said that advice led to the decision to reject the changes requested by the black coalition.

Senator Trotter disputed this reading of electoral history in his county -- and said a suit "absolutely" would be filed to overturn the plan if it was not changed.

Changes are considered unlikely in the legislature because to get sufficient votes for passage, too many problems would have to be solved without creating new ones.

Legislators got a look at the map yesterday morning.

For the first time, the city and Baltimore County share senatorial districts -- an effort to create a Baltimore region with sufficient strength to offset new population growth --

and political power -- in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

Some Baltimore County Democrats said the map robbed them of loyal voters, who were ceded to the city in an effort to shore up its political strength.

Del. Richard Rynd, D-Baltimore County, and others predicted the effort to help Baltimore will hurt it instead by robbing friends of the city with strong Democratic voting records.

City legislators argue that county representatives are not as reliable as they claim -- but might be more so if some of their votes were coming from city precincts.

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