Racial Head Count Prompts Bid To Redraw Ward Lines

January 29, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

It was race politics by the numbers Monday night as officials of theAnnapolis Democratic party and the Black Political Forum urged aldermen to redraw ward lines to increase the chance of electing a third black member of the City Council.

The council heard from Michael T.Brown, chairman of the city's Democratic Central Committee, who's been offering an alternative to the ward map drawn by the city's redistricting committee. Brown -- who lost to Alderman Wayne Turner, R-Ward6, by just four votes in 1989 -- proposes increasing the black population of Ward 6 to 49 percent from the current 41 percent. Under the redistricting committee's plan, blacks would make up 36 percent of Ward 6.

Brown, who is black, says he's planning to start law school and is not sure about running for the Ward 6 seat again in 1993.

After seven months of meetings, the 13-member committee voted, 12-1, in November to approve an eight-ward redistricting plan that slightly increases the black population of wards 3 and 5, both of which are represented by black aldermen. The plan, aired for the first time at the Monday night public hearing, slightly reduces the black population of each of the other six wards.

According to the 1990 census, blacks make up 33 percent of the city's population of 33,187, down 2.4 percentfrom the 1980 census. Under federal law, the city's ward lines are redrawn after each census to maintain a balanced representation on theCity Council. The council must approve a new map before the city primary election in 1993.

Brown said his plan is the "most fair" and abides by the "spirit of the Voting Rights Act." The 1965 federal lawwas designed to ensure equal minority representation in government and gave citizens the right to sue municipal governments for better representation.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, sued the city inU.S. District Court under the Voting Rights Act in 1984. As a result, the city agreed to maintain two black majority wards and one ward that would be considered "competitive" for a black candidate, said Snowden. Snowden noted in an interview that the court did not use the word "competitive" in its decree, but agreed to the concept of such a ward put forward by Snowden.

In response to Snowden's questions at the Monday night hearing, redistricting committee chairman John PrehnJr. said the panel never defined the term "competitive" in terms of a black percentage.

"Obviously, it's a percentage that gives a black candidate a chance to win an election," said Prehn. He said he thought that a 36-percent black ward "could be considered competitive. .. . I'm saying the committee feels it's a very fair plan."

Committee member Paul Goetzke pointed out that Brown lost to Turner by fourvotes in Ward 6, when blacks made up 39 percent of the ward's population. "That's competitive," said Goetzke.

Speaking on behalf of the Brown proposal were Trudi McGowan, a member of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee, and representatives of the Black Political Forum, an advocacy group based in Anne Arundel County.

Forum president Lewis Bracy of Hanover suggested that the committee's plan could subject the city to another suit under the Voting Rights Act. "This could be avoided" if the city adopts the Brown proposal, Bracy said.

Brown's plan moves 513 whites from Ward 6 to wards 7 and 8, and adds585 blacks to Ward 6 from the Bay Ridge Gardens apartments in Ward 7.

Alderman Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, noted that Brown's plan moves Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins into her ward -- "which is interesting," she said. She questioned why blacks were being moved from her ward intoWard 6 rather than Ward 8, where the black population now stands at 13 percent.

She asked Bracy if he cared whether the third "competitive ward were Ward 6 or Ward 8."

Bracy replied that "we wanted todo what people in (Ward 6) expressed a desire to do."

Brown earlier had presented a petition from residents of Bay Ridge Gardens asking to be moved into Ward 6.

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