Suit challenges city redistricting


A white Republican and a black Democrat have filed suit challenging the plan to redistrict the Baltimore City Council.

The suit was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court by Ross Z. Pierpont, who has frequently run as a GOP candidate for various political offices, and Aaron Wilkes, 23, a college student. The suit contends that black voting strength is diluted by the redistricting plan and that it would illegally split up areas of the city linked by tradition or geography.

The City Council approved the redistricting plan on March 22 after a week of emotional debate, tense negotiations and back-room deals. The new plan dramatically changed the shape of at least three of the six council districts and gave five of the six a majority black population.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, although unhappy with the plan, signed it into law the next day.

The plan made the most drastic changes to the 3rd District in northeast Baltimore and 6th District in South Baltimore.

Each district had a slight majority white population, but the redrawn lines gave each a black majority of about 60 percent.

Council proponents of the new plan, primarily the seven-member African-American Coalition, said the changes were necessary to enhance the opportunity to elect a majority black council in a city that is nearly 60 percent black. The 19-member council currently has seven black members.

"I want to see a majority black council," Wilkes said. "The map they passed doesn't do that. I'd like to see a new map that realistically does do that."

The suit asks the court to throw out the redistricting plan and appoint a "special master" to prepare a new voting map.

City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said he was not ready to comment on the merits of the lawsuit. "You have to take any lawsuit seriously," he added.

Janey noted that since the redistricting plan came from council members, and not Schmoke, he had not reviewed it for legal sufficiency. "We actually have to study the ordinance in terms of what is alleged in the lawsuit," he said.

Janey said he will file a motion with the federal court in the next few days asking for dismissal of the suit.

The city primary Sept. 12 is the first election in which the newly drawn districts will be used.

Pierpont said the suit was filed to challenge political "bosses," whom he declined to identify, from dividing the city to suit their political ambitions.

"If they [the proponents of redistricting] set out to break up the city, they did that," Pierpont said.

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