Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he drafted his redistricting proposal with only the law in mind. But political reality looms as a larger factor after Schmoke last night was faced down by 300 Bolton Hill residents angry about the prospect of moving to a new council district.
After listening to speaker after speaker talk about Bolton Hill's historic and demographic ties to parts of the 2nd District, Schmoke told a packed meeting of the Mount Royal Improvement Association that he would reconsider his proposal to move the community to the 4th District.
"I just gained a different perspective on the issue," Schmoke said, in explaining his decision to reconsider moving Bolton Hill.
Schmoke's apparent willingness to retreat on the issue brought loud applause from the audience at Mount Royal Elementary-Middle School.
The mayor's announcement came after he heard his proposal shredded by an angry roomful of people in a neighborhood that had voted overwhelmingly for him in 1987. The mayor faces re-election this fall.
In addition to questioning the rationale of the mayor's plan, speakers offered testimony on the need for council representatives with the stamina and interest to focus on the issues important to the mostly middle-class, white neighborhood. The residents described themselves as a white minority holding on to remain in the city in the face of rising crime and high taxes.
"It's getting very difficult to live in the city. I've had three friends held up at gun point," said Doreen Rosenthal. "I don't want to leave the city. I need help. I need representatives who can take their energy and work for the kind of neighborhood I want to live in."
Rosenthal said that if Bolton Hill were moved to the 4th District, the neighborhood would be stuck with council representatives who have to spend "90 percent of their time dealing with drugs, issues of medical care . . . and all of the sad things that occur."
She said those pressing concerns would leave little time for a council member to tend to the issues -- things such as historic preservation, traffic and cultural concerns -- dear to Bolton Hill.
Rosenthal and others said that Bolton Hill's long standing alliances with other largely white, middle-class areas in the 2nd District -- including Wyman Park, Charles Village and Mount Vernon -- bring clout to the quality-of-life issues vital in Bolton Hill.
"The concern is that we have enough of us together in a district," said Dr. Neal M. Friedlander, head of the community group's redistricting committee. "It is so hard for people like us to stay in the city. We're carrying the burden. We know that."
Dr. Friedlander explained that high taxes and crime in Baltimore make the suburbs an attractive alternative. And others made that point plainly to the mayor during the meeting.
Before saying he was going to reconsider his recommendation, Schmoke made several attempts to defend his proposal. But they had little impact on the audience.
"There are other areas in the [4th District] that are middle-class and share interests with the people in Bolton Hill," Schmoke said at one point.
He also said that many areas of the 2nd District are similar to the poor, black neighborhoods that seem to characterize the 4th District for many people at last night's meeting.
But the mayor was not very convincing. "The 2nd District is 70 percent [black] and the 4th District is 90 percent [black]," one man blurted out.
"I am talking demographics, not race," Schmoke responded.
State Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City, a Bolton Hill resident who has made noises about running for mayor since Schmoke's plan was unveiled, said the issue is critical to the neighborhood.
"[Schmoke's proposal] really destroys the neighborhood, because the neighborhood will not get a sympathetic councilman," he said.
The people of Bolton Hill are not the only ones unhappy.
Black voter advocates say Schmoke's plan for reshaping the city's six councilmanic districts avoids the sweeping changes needed to overcome black underrepresentation on the council. Seven of the city's 19 council members are black, while the city's population is at least 60 percent black.
The advocates have vowed to press their point in court if the NTC mayor's plan is not radically amended. The City Council, which ++ received the plan last week, has 60 days to pass the measure. It has a hearing on the measure scheduled for Feb. 19.