Voter plan under attack

NAACP branch calls for three wards with black majorities

Redistricting hurry decried

Committee trying to redraw lines in time for fall elections

April 13, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The NAACP's Anne Arundel County branch called on Annapolis yesterday to create three mostly black voting districts and criticized city efforts to quickly redistrict in time for the fall elections.

The city's 11-member redistricting committee is scheduled to make its recommendation to the city council by May 1, in time for city election deadlines and county election board requirements before the Sept. 11 primary.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it doubted that the city could fairly redistrict in the condensed timetable and threatened to challenge in federal court any plan that diluted black influence in city wards.

"The African-American community has increased, and I don't see them doing the right thing given the timetable they are working on," said Michael Brown Sr., the NAACP branch's political action chairman. "If they pass a map that I think is not adequate, I will recommend to the chair that we sue."

Frederick C. Sussman, a lawyer who is chairman of the city's redistricting committee, said he was "extremely disappointed that the NAACP is threatening a lawsuit ... without even having the slightest idea of what recommendations the committee is going to make."

Sussman said that based on the committee's preliminary work, "it appears that three of the wards will have significant concentrations of minority residents." The plan is not refined enough to determine the exact percentages of white and minority populations in each ward, he said.

The redistricting committee has been meeting since January to reorganize the city's eight voting districts in time for the mayoral and aldermanic primary election. Recently released census data show a "gross disparity" in the population of the wards that calls into question the principle of "one man, one vote," Sussman said.

The largest population change since the 1990 census occurred in Ward 5 - a mostly black ward represented by white Republican Alderman Herbert H. McMillan - that encompasses most of the city fringes west of Forest Drive.

Ideally, each ward in the 35,838-person city should have a population of about 4,480. Ward 5 has a population of about 5,892 - 31.5 percent more than the ideal figure. The other mostly minority ward and the only other overpopulated ward is Ward 3, which is represented by African-American Democrat Samuel Gilmer. It is 6.4 percent overpopulated, with 4,765 residents. Eastport's Ward 8, which has the lowest population, has 4,022 residents - 10.2 percent less than ideal.

"The current census figures show a gross disparity between wards that the NAACP should find offensive," Sussman said. "The one-man, one-vote principle perhaps is being compromised more in Wards 3 and 5 as they currently exist in the city than in any other ward."

For the city not to make "every effort to alter the ward lines before this election to provide for more equal representation would be a disservice to residents of those wards," Sussman said.

But Brown noted that the city is not required to redistrict before the election and said the NAACP would prefer the committee take its time and do it right. He said he saw no reason to rush the redistricting process, since the mostly black wards would stay intact.

Asked why he thought that the redistricting would not live up to his expectations, Brown said he has heard negative things about the inner politics of the committee and has been jaded by past redistricting conflicts.

He said he wants to see districts that give African-Americans a "fair shot of electing someone of like mind. If it is something that is clearly off the wall, something that rapes the black community, I won't stand for it," he said.

Brown pointed to a successful 1984 lawsuit filed by Carl O. Snowden and others that led to the creation of the two mostly black wards. "At that time, the city's population was almost one-third African-American," said Snowden, special assistant to the county executive. "The proposed plans they were putting forward would have only created one majority African-American ward. We filed a lawsuit challenging the city's redistricting plan."

The city redistricted again, creating the black wards, and entered into a consent decree. Snowden then went on to represent Ward 5 on the city council.

Last year, the city's black population increased to 11,267 from 10,964 in 1990, but as a percentage of the total city population it dropped to 31 percent from 33 percent. Daria Hardin, city census liaison and chief of comprehensive planning for the Department of Planning and Zoning, said this could be attributed to the growth of the city's Asian and Pacific Islander population - up to 666 from 445 in 1990 - or to the new option in 2000 that allowed 597 city residents to declare more than one race on census forms.

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