Council shifting gears to election Council members talking politics, not lawsuits.


Political leaders weakened by the city's new redistricting plan are backing away from their threats to take the plan to court now that it has been signed into law.

Politicians in the 3rd and 6th Councilmanic Districts -- those most affected by the changes to the borders of the city's six districts -- yesterday were talking survival and are considering fielding biracial tickets for municipal elections this fall.

Previously, the dominant political clubs in those districts have fielded all-white council slates.

"I'm not going to sue," says state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-City, a 3rd District political power, who said the exact opposite last week during the acrimonious council debate over the plan. "A suit is very expensive."

Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, said he was "disappointed" Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed the bill into law Saturday. DiBlasi's district lost the South Baltimore peninsula, which includes Locust Point, to the 1st District. The peninsula was a political stronghold of the district's incumbent council members.

But DiBlasi said he knows of no definite plans to challenge the plan in court, although he said some community groups in Locust Point are discussing the idea.

DiBlasi said he and one of his council colleagues already have made plans to meet some of their future constituents in Harlem Park, a black West Baltimore community that was moved into the 6th District under the plan.

"We plan to let people in Harlem Park know that we plan to represent them as diligently as we do people anywhere else in the district," DiBlasi said. "Once the mayor signed the bill, we knew we had to get back to business."

Schmoke signed the bill one day after the council approved it by a 16-3 vote. The plan, crafted by the council's seven black members, makes five of the city's six councilmanic districts mostly black. Currently, only three of the districts have black majorities.

The plan, which replaced a status quo plan put forth by the mayor, touched off a racially charged week of hearings, meetings and negotiations in City Hall that ended when Schmoke signed the bill into law.

"I just thought it was important to start the process of bringing people together and healing the city," Schmoke said of his decision to sign the redistricting measure after expressing strong reservations about it. "We have a lot of important issues that we have to deal with. . . . I also thought it was important that the final vote received support from 16 people in the council."

Backers of the plan hope that the new district lines will weaken the hold the remaining old-line political organizations have had on council seats for decades and create new opportunities for the election of blacks. Blacks now hold only seven of 19 council seats.

"Tearing down some of the political structures that have controlled districts allows for a more open process," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th. "But the bottom line is people still have to get out and vote if this plan is to have any effect."

Framers of the redistricting plan said they expect at least nine blacks to be elected to the council this fall with the redistricting, which will be in effect until 2003.

The fact that a new district map will be in place for the September municipal primary already is sparking a change in political thought in some parts of the city.

DiBlasi said that he and Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, D-6th, will look for a black candidate to run on the district's ticket this fall if Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, is named to a District Court judgeship. Murphy is a finalist for the post.

"Now that our district is 56 percent black, it behooves us to strongly consider a black candidate for our ticket," DiBlasi said.

The same is true in the 3rd District, where Democratic Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd said that a black-white coalition is part of the new reality for any practical politician.

"I thought that a coalition ticket has made sense for a number of years," said Landers, who is running for city comptroller. "It makes sense in terms of consolidating the political strength of the district. It sends out all the right signals about the organization's willingness to grow and progress and, lastly, it makes just plain old good common sense."

Landers added that a biracial ticket makes good political sense in a district that will have a 60 percent black population for this fall's elections.

Schmoke said that much of the racial tension resulting from the ** debate over the plan should diminish as the council moves on to other matters.

"Emotions ran high," Schmoke said. "But I think we can move beyond that and begin working on matters common to all the citizens of the city."

Others agreed with that assessment.

"Redistricting is a nasty, sensitive process," Pica said. "Depending on who has the votes, there will be winners and losers. People in northeast and southwest Baltimore were losers this time. But when the dust clears, we have to find a way to work together."

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