Schmoke vows to devise a fair redistricting plan


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that concerns of City Council members over the safety of their seats should not determine how Baltimore is redistricted early next year.

"What should drive the decisions about redistricting are fair representation issues, no other considerations," the mayor said. "I'm pledging to have a fair plan that will be well-received by the electorate."

City Council members want assurances from the mayor that they won't be cut out of their districts when the lines for new council districts are drawn to reflect shifts in the city's population. They fear that if they are placed in a new district they may be precluded from running for re-election because they would not be able to meet the one-year residency requirement established under the City Charter.

"At this point the issue of incumbency is not a primary issue in the process because that's not one of the issues courts weigh in evaluating redistricting plans," Mr. Schmoke said.

But he said he eventually will discuss his redistricting proposal with the council members.

"I'm sure in those discussions political issues will be raised," the mayor said. "Redistricting is an inherently political process. But this stage of it is one that is simply guided by issues that are not political."

Even though the mayor's redistricting plan must be submitted to the City Council for approval in February, two months before final 1990 Census figures are due to be delivered, he did not anticipate that any serious problems would result.

Mr. Schmoke said the city would use "the best available numbers" for redistricting -- estimates from the Maryland Office of Planning, the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments and the city planning department.

"The courts have allowed a certain margin of error as long as the margin is uniform throughout the districts," he said.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, said he would like an explanation of the process the mayor intends to use, now that he has decided to go ahead and submit a plan to the council.

"This administration has not been known for its openness, especially where political issues are concerned," Mr. Ambridge said.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, said she understands the mayor's perspective on redistricting and agrees "wholeheartedly."

"It hasn't been equal representation in the past. Here's an opportunity for it to happen even if it might mean that I might be out," said Ms. Dixon, who admitted she is less vulnerable than other council members because she lives in the middle of her district.

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