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In final meeting of term, Baltimore City Council to vote on zoning, renaming Columbus Day

The City Council, meeting Monday for the final time this session, is scheduled to vote on a comprehensive rezoning plan and a contentious proposal to rename Columbus Day.

It will also bid farewell to eight members who leave with a combined 125 years of experience.

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The council chambers are expected to be packed with well-wishers planning to honor the departing members, as well as protesters fighting against the effort to strip Christopher Columbus of his holiday and rebrand it Indigenous Peoples and Italian-Americans Day.

Mileah Kromer, a political scientist at Goucher College, said council members have an opportunity to leave office on a high note.

The zoning rules, for example, were years in the making and designed to create a more walkable city. It also seeks to limit the number of bail bond and check cashing businesses, among others some consider predatory.

The new 15-member council will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Thursday at the War Memorial.

Longtime members Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Robert W. Curran and Helen L. Holton are retiring.

Councilmen James B. Kraft, Carl Stokes and Nick J. Mosby did not seek re-election. Each were unsuccessful in their pursuit of other offices.

Incumbents Warren M. Branch and William "Pete" Welch lost their seats to Democratic challengers in the primary.

Curran, elected in 1995 to represent Northeast Baltimore, said he was preparing remarks to reflect on his time in office — and that of his brother and father, who served before him. The public is invited to the Curran Room in City Hall for a small reception after the meeting.

"I have a lot to look back on," said Curran, 66. "The Currans have been on City Council spanning seven decades. What I am going to miss most is the people."

Curran frequently took up issues connected to animals rights and predatory towing. His push for a citywide smoking ban in 2007 earned him a standing ovation from the council.

Curran said he will work part time as a liquor store cashier in Canton.

It is unclear whether Spector, 80, will attend Monday's meeting. She was attacked Friday during an attempted carjacking in a parking garage in South Baltimore. She was treated for injuries at a local hospital and released hours later.

Elected to represent Northwest Baltimore in 1977, she is the longest-serving member of the council.

Baltimore's 71st City Council approved legislation that required police to wear body cameras, forced audits of more city agencies and barred employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records early in the hiring process.

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The current council was elected in 2011 to serve an unusual five-year term. They received the extra year when voters decided to align municipal elections with the presidential election cycle to take advantage of higher voter turnout.

The new members are Zeke Cohen in the 1st District, Ryan Dorsey in the 3rd District, Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer in the 5th District, Leon F. Pinkett III in the 7th District, Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th District, John T. Bullock in the 9th District, Robert Stokes Sr. in the 12th District and Shannon Sneed in the 13th District.

Kromer said excitement surrounding the election of the new council members — who in many cases are a generation younger than the members they succeed — has brought more attention than usual to the turnover.

"It's different this year," she said. "You have this youthful exuberance, the hopefulness of youth."

Councilman Brandon M. Scott of Northeast Baltimore, who is returning to the council, said Monday's meeting will be bittersweet.

"We'll be losing a lot of institutional knowledge and people who have done so much good," Scott said. "At the same time, I am ecstatic about getting my new colleagues here to start a new day for the city of Baltimore."

The council is expected Monday to approve Scott's bill to offer government ID cards to city residents. The cards are intended to make it easier for homeless people, immigrants and others who lack a driver's license to gain access city services.

Also up for final approval is the vote to strip Columbus, the Italian explorer, of the holiday named in his honor.

Scott filed legislation to recognize the people native to the lands explored by Columbus at the request of students at City Neighbors Charter School.

Supporters argue Columbus isn't deserving of a federal holiday because his expeditions enslaved, brutalized and killed the indigenous peoples of the West Indies, and he never actually reached the land now known as the United States.

The effort sparked an outcry from some in the Italian-American community, prompting Scott to amend the bill to recognize both indigenous people and those of Italian descent.

The compromise fell short of satisfying many. Columbus Day is celebrated in Little Italy and elsewhere in the city as a celebration of culture and past generations.

The bill was given preliminary approval in a 12-2 vote last month. Scott expects some members to reverse their position after an aggressive lobbying effort by heritage groups.

John Pica, a lobbyist who represented Baltimore in the General Assembly from 1979 to 1996, helped lead the effort.

"Italian Americans have made rich and substantial contributions to culture and society in the United States as well as in Maryland and the city of Baltimore," he wrote in an email to Scott. "We are deeply appreciative and proud of the groundwork established by the Italian generations before us.

"Those of us living today have made our own mark on civic achievements. We want to honor and continue that Italian American tradition for the generations of the young and those of the future. That is why this is so important."

Scott said much of the opposition seems to be coming from outside Baltimore. He is steadfast in a desire to strip Columbus' name from the holiday.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong," Scott said. "People don't want the same old, same old. Columbus never even made it to America."

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