Blacks only Segregated meeting: Dividing City Council members by race doesn't help Baltimore.

January 27, 1996

IT IS DIFFICULT to give up old habits. The African-American Coalition of the Baltimore City Council was born in 1988 to give a greater voice to under-represented blacks in this city. There were only seven African-American council members at that time. Today, majority-black Baltimore has a majority-black City Council 11 of 19 members, including Council President Lawrence Bell. The mayor is black, so is the comptroller. The need for a "minority" coalition should be over.

Fourth District Councilwoman Shelia Dixon says the coalition's aim is to empower blacks, not exclude whites. But that goal should be achievable if each council member represents the interests of his or her district. That way, no segment of Baltimore will be ignored.

The city problems they should be addressing can no longer be categorized by race anyway. Everyone is affected by poor schools, the lack of jobs, crime and deteriorating infrastructure. African-American members of the council should be showing the white minority that the days are gone when a race-based coalition had to be formed to tackle the problems affecting any part of Baltimore's population.

The state attorney general's office has offered an opinion that although the coalition includes a majority of the council's members, it would not be breaking open meetings laws so long as it did not discuss city business. If the coalition isn't going to discuss city business, why would its members want to meet? Even if its members take no formal votes, they will likely develop positions affecting future votes without the public discourse that this city's citizens have a right to expect.

There is also reason to suspect this coalition's true motives. Mr. Bell was the only black incumbent or newcomer not invited to a coalition victory party after the Sept. 12 primary. Sixth District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes said Mr. Bell had not worked with the coalition in the past. But neither had any of the new council members. The incident suggests the coalition's agenda isn't about race, but the ambitions of a few individuals who want to use that organization to enhance their personal power.

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