NAACP offers redistricting alternative

Plan seeks to boost to 3 the number of majority black wards

City's proposal criticized

Public hearing to be held Tuesday

May 27, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Alleging that Annapolis' proposal to reconfigure city voting districts is unfair to African-Americans, the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP is introducing an alternative proposal - dubbed the "fair plan" - that would create three majority black districts.

Representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say the plan will fulfill a decades-long desire of the black community to have its elected officials reflect the city's diversity. The civil rights group is expected to unveil its plan at Tuesday night's city council meeting.

Minorities make up 41 percent of the city's population of 35,838, with blacks accounting for 31 percent of all minorities, according to the latest census figures. Two of the city's eight voting districts are represented by minority aldermen - both are African-American.

The NAACP plan would likely add a third.

"Fair-minded people will see that it's a fair plan," said Michael Brown Sr., the NAACP branch's political action chairman, who has been critical of the city's 11-member redistricting committee, which has proposed two majority black wards and a third majority minority ward.

"Their charge was to do the right thing," Brown said of the committee. "If their plan is the right thing, then we're all in trouble."

Christopher Brown, a lawyer with Brown, Goldstein & Levy of Baltimore and an associate professor at the University of Maryland law school, said the main strength of the NAACP plan is that it relies on voting-age population rather than overall population figures in determining the racial composition of the city's wards.

For example, 10 people may reside in a house, but only two may be of voting age.

"Four-year-olds don't vote," said Christopher Brown, who will help present the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun. "Our plan gives African-Americans and Hispanics a chance at winning three out of the eight districts."

The city committee's proposed plan is based on overall population figures, something Michael Brown said "presented a false sense of the voting strength of a community."

Christopher Brown said the NAACP plan sought to create three wards each with a 65 percent minority voting-age population, a guideline he said courts have used to construct voting districts to ensure that minorities have a fair chance of electing one of their own.

Because of economic, social and cultural reasons, Christopher Brown said, minority populations tend to be underregistered and more transient, which is "why you need to have more blacks [in a ward] than just 50 percent."

"It's impossible to create three 65 percent African-American or minority voting districts, but our map does a better job of it than the city's," Christopher Brown said, noting that the NAACP plan would create two wards that would be 61 percent black and a third that would be about 57 percent black. "It's not as though our mapmaker is a shrewd guy that knows how to make maps. The city could have come up with a similar map if it had wanted to."

Also under the NAACP plan, Ward 3 Alderman Samuel Gilmer, an African-American Democrat, and Ward 4 Alderman Joseph Sachs, a white Republican, would be pitted against each other in a new Ward 3, which would be 61 percent black. Under the committee's plan, no incumbents square off.

"Our mapmaker tells us that slight changes" to the map could eliminate the matchup between incumbents, Christopher Brown said. "I'm told we could be flexible enough to take care of that problem."

Lawyer Frederick C. Sussman, chairman of the city's redistricting committee, said Friday that the committee sought to create wards of about equal population that, to the greatest extent possible, kept neighborhoods intact and provided fair opportunity for all city residents to participate fairly in the electoral process.

He said the committee was aware that general population does not reflect voting-age population, but said substantial size differences between the black and white populations in its proposed majority-black wards would "still result in clear African-American voting majorities."

Under the city committee's proposed plan, also to be discussed Tuesday night, Ward 3 would be about 78 percent black, Ward 6 about 58 percent black and Ward 4 about 49 percent black. Ward 4's total minority population would be just under 51 percent, and would include people who identify themselves as Asian, as members of two or more races and as "other."

The NAACP has called the committee's proposed Ward 4 a "swing ward," saying it would not guarantee minority representation. But Sussman said the proposed ward provides a chance for blacks to have a "significant impact" on selecting an alderman.

The redistricting of Ward 4 was a tough task for the committee. It had attempted to take some whites out of the ward, but they would have had come from the large, mostly white, middle-class Germantown-Homewood neighborhood, which is currently split among three wards.

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