The Baltimore City Council swiftly approved Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s redistricting map during the March 28 city council meeting, despite nays from Jim Kraft, D-1, Belinda Conaway, D-7, and Carl Stokes, D-12.
Councilmembers planned to return the map drawing table if state-issued prison numbers resulted in overpopulated districts, but the figures, released last week, documented only a 6,000 population increase, too-small of a margin to readjust the map.
After its passage, Kraft, co-chair of the council’s redistricting committee, thanked staff persons involved in the process. “While it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, I want to recognize people involved,” he said.
It wasn’t until City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who voted in favor of the map, moved onto council announcements that Conaway, the staunchest opponent of the proposal, spoke on the city hall floor. “Despite efforts to keep me quiet … I still stand that it is an illegal map and it needs to be changed,” she said.
After her brief speech, the council quickly continued on with announcements, including councilperson appearances and notable newspaper articles.
Following the meeting, Conaway told the AFRO she plans to sue the city over the map.
“There are people that want me to be distracted and there are definitely people that want me to be quiet,” she said. “It will take more than this to stop me.”
At several redistricting public hearings, Conaway insisted the mayor’s proposal stifles diversity and limits voting power by “packing” three predominately-Black neighborhoods into her district and removing two White communities. “Packing violates federal law,” she said at one hearing.
She added that the proposal robs her district of resources, including Hampden’s 36th street shops and the 25th street station, a development project she actively advocated.
“My district is being dismantled in a way that does not serve my residents,” she said. “I will not rubberstamp legislation that benefits a select few … This is a flagrant insult.”
Mayoral spokesman Ryan O’Doherty called the packing allegations unfair and said the Baltimore City law department approved the proposal.
Under the new map, Conaway loses Remington, Hampden and a section of Park Heights but gains Reservoir Hill. Several residents from the latter have contested the shift to Conaway’s district. One such resident, Jacob Green, said he collected 46 signatures in 24 hours for a petition to protest moving under Conaway’s reign.
“We vehemently oppose redistricting,” he said. “We would not like to have another nail in the coffin when our neighborhood is struggling to come back,” he said.
The community had been a part of Councilman William Cole’s more affluent and predominately White 11th district. There is speculation the redrawn lines centralize Cole’s control over central Baltimore, firming up his resources and access to large redevelopment projects and wealthy residents.
“It is clear, even to the naked eye, that something questionable happened with the 11th district that had a negative, trickle down, affect on other districts,” Former Baltimore City NAACP President Marvin “Doc” Cheatham said in an email. “Packing, cracking and stacking seemingly took place…to purportedly better protect the councilman in the 11th district. A councilman that I have privately and publicly stated my support for re-election.”
Councilman Kraft said the map violates charter provisions by splitting up several communities in his 1st district, including Butcher’s Hill and Upper Fells Point, in order to reunite Greektown. “Existing council lines were not taken into account as mandated,” he said. “It’s disappointing that this has happened.”
Despite his strong opposition, Kraft told the AFRO there was no sense in fighting the map because his colleagues made an agreement with the mayor to vote down any amendments to her proposal.
In response, O’Doherty said, “We were asked if we support Conaway’s amendments and we said we were not familiar with the amendments. That’s the only comment we made.”
He added that Kraft had not proposed amendments to the mayor’s plan. “If Jim Kraft didn’t like the way his district was drafted, he did not offer a single amendment on the floor of the city council,” O’Doherty said.
Butcher’s Hill residents came out in droves to redistricting hearings to claim their allegiance to Kraft. The mayor’s plan halves that community between Kraft and the 13th district. At the final public hearing at Baltimore City Community College, one Butcher’s Hill woman called the map “gerrymandering.”
“(The mayor) reconstructed the 2nd district so her candidate can win,” Terri Ehrenfield, a 12-year Butcher’s Hill resident said. “We are going to remember this during the next election.”
Brandon Scott from the mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods is expected to run in the second district, replacing incumbent Nicholos D’Adamo, who has vowed to retire.
“I don’t think the mayor cut up the city in 15 parts for Brandon Scott,” D’Adamo told the AFRO after a city council meeting. “And I don’t think she was out to get anybody. But all mayor’s hope to get redistricting every 10 years. That’s the way they thank their supporters,” he said.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who had been unhappy with the map, decided to support the measure during the final vote. “I fought my battle with my amendments. I lost, so I voted for the map,” she said. “I do support Councilwoman Conaway and her work with the 7th district. I did everything I could to help,” she said sadly.“But it’s hard to vote against a redistricting map because you don’t want the people coming into your district to think you don’t want them.”
Stokes, who initially voted in favor of the map but voted against it during the last meeting, said he had “never sat on the city council and seen a colleague so disrespected” as Conaway had been. “She lost part of her district that she felt strongly about … Normally, there is councilmanic courtesy. If it doesn’t affect you in any way and other councilpersons agree to it, the council agrees to it,” he said.
Said O’Doherty, “It’s fine to throw out allegations but if you look at the facts and talk to more than one community, you get more than one perspective,” he said. “The plan was supported by an overwhelming majority of the city council and an overwhelming majority of city neighborhoods,” he added. “The mayor is pleased the plan was approved.”
The map goes into effect April 1. To learn how your neighborhood is affected by redistricting visit www.baltimorecity.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Bnm45Yvl_vc%3d&tabid=1003&mid=1770