Council belatedly marks 200th year

October 23, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The Sun incorrectly reported on Oct. 23 that the City Council waited until fall to mark the bicentennial of its first-ever meeting on Feb. 27, 1797. The City Council held a special meeting on Feb. 27 of this year to mark the bicentennial.

The Sun regrets the error.

OK, so the Baltimore City Council's re-enactment of its first meeting 200 years ago was lacking many 18th-century touches: Freight trucks rumbled over paved streets, nary a wig could be found and electricity supplied light and amplified sound.

Even the location didn't quite match: The Battle Monument stands where the council first met, so the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse had to stand in.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

And, yes, that first meeting took place in February 1797, meaning yesterday's re-enactment -- part of the city's bicentennial celebration -- was about eight months late.

But as it turned out, the event managed to draw out quite nicely some of the contrasts between then and now.

For instance, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III pointed out that two bells were present during the re-enactment -- the other being the one a "town crier" rang to open the meeting -- one Bell would have been absent. As an African-American, his chances of being council president in 1797 were nil.

In the same way, 1st District Councilwoman Lois Garey of East Baltimore would have been denied a chance to represent her area -- women in those days couldn't even vote.

Despite any differences Bell and Garey might have during the council's weekly meetings, they agreed the changes over the years are ones that should be celebrated.

"Two hundred years ago, I wouldn't have been allowed to be here," Garey said. "That wouldn't have even been an option for me."

Said Bell: "Even when I'm critical, I can't lose sight of the fact that my being here is a testament to the fact that this system is special."

Though the contrast is stark, the mission and manner of the council are unchanged since that first meeting. Bell said the procedures of democracy remain, while Garey said council members' goal then and now is to help the public that elected them.

The re-enactment of the meeting came near the end of an extensive lineup of events crammed into and around the annual Term of Courts ceremony, which marks the start of this year's Circuit Court term. In addition to the re-enactment, the city rededicated the Calvert Monument in front of the courthouse, one of a series of rededications as part of Baltimore's bicentennial.

Also, the court paid tribute to U.S. District Judge John R. Hargrove Sr. and Circuit Court Clerk Saundra E. Banks, both of whom died this year.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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