Election district changes advance

City Council continues debate over some details

Bill moves toward final vote

Adjustments made for west-side neighborhoods

March 18, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

It was east side vs. west side yesterday as City Council members engaged in a heated debate over Mayor Martin O'Malley's proposal to redraw city election districts. The west side won.

The council last night approved three minor changes to O'Malley's redistricting proposal by accommodating west-side neighborhoods that asked not to be split into separate election districts. The 12-5 vote -- two members abstained -- advances the bill toward its expected adoption next week.

"If we're going to make some constituents happy on the west side but not on the east side, how do we defend this?" asked Councilwoman Lois A. Garey.

The council has been considering the voter-approved plan to change the council's configuration since O'Malley introduced it Jan. 27. A referendum approved in November replaces the city's six three-member districts with 14 single-member districts. The council and the mayor opposed the plan from the start.

"This is not a process we created," said Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, co-chairwoman of the council's redistricting committee. "We tried to make the best of a bad situation."

The council held two public hearings last month and heard from several communities. The minor changes approved last night accommodate the request of Harlem Park activists by moving the neighborhood into the new District 11. Part of that west-side community would reside in District 9 under the mayor's plan.

Three other west-side neighborhoods, Windsor Hills, Garwyn Oaks and West Forest Park, would swap places with Medfield and Woodberry to keep each group in one district.

Each of the city's new districts includes about 46,500 people.

Blake said no other such shifts could have been made to accommodate requests from other neighborhoods because the population in the city's eastern half is more spread out.

"Unless we started from scratch, there was nothing we could do on the east side of the city," Blake said. "There was no wiggle room."

Three council members vehemently disagreed. Garey, Lisa Joi Stancil and John L. Cain said Blake and her committee should have held work sessions to ask other council members what they wanted to change on the map.

Blake and her co-chairwoman, Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, said council members have had nearly two months to study the map and suggest changes within their communities.

"It is incumbent upon you to bring it to our attention," Blake told Cain. "You brought a problem, not a solution."

Council President Sheila Dixon said she had asked council members to express their concerns regarding the map to her.

"No one came to the table and said anything," Dixon said.

Many council members said they did not bother to offer amendments because they assumed that the mayor had enough votes to pass his map.

Garey said unless all changes could be made then none should be approved.

"Don't give me a hard time," Blake said. Garey retorted: "You have no idea of how much of a hard time I can give you."

An exasperated Blake replied: "It's not perfect, but we're trying."

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