Arundel NAACP offers alternative redistricting plan


Alleging that Annapolis' proposal to reconfigure city voting districts is unfair to African-Americans, the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP is introducing an alternative proposal - dubbed the "fair plan" - that would create three majority black districts.

Representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say the plan will fulfill a decades-long desire of the black community to have its elected officials reflect the city's diversity. The civil rights group is expected to unveil its plan at Tuesday night's city council meeting.

Minorities make up 41 percent of the city's population of 35,838, with blacks accounting for 31 percent of all minorities, according to the latest census figures. Two of the city's eight voting districts are represented by minority aldermen - both are African-American.

The NAACP plan would likely add a third.

'It's a fair plan'

"Fair-minded people will see that it's a fair plan," said Michael Brown Sr., the NAACP branch's political action chairman, who has been critical of the city's 11-mem- ber redistricting committee, which has proposed two majority black wards and a third majority minority ward.

"Their charge was to do the right thing," Brown said of the committee. "If their plan is the right thing, then we're all in trouble."

Christopher Brown, a lawyer with Brown, Goldstein & Levy of Baltimore and an associate professor at the University of Maryland law school, said the main strength of the NAACP plan is that it relies on voting-age population rather than overall population figures in determining the racial composition of the city's wards.

For example, 10 people may reside in a house, but only two may be of voting age.

"Four-year-olds don't vote," said Christopher Brown, who will help present the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun. "Our plan gives African-Americans and Hispanics a chance at winning three out of the eight districts."

The city committee's proposed plan is based on overall population figures, something Michael Brown said "presented a false sense of the voting strength of a community."

Christopher Brown said the NAACP plan sought to create three wards each with a 65 percent minority voting-age population, a guideline he said courts have used to construct voting districts to ensure that minorities have a fair chance of electing one of their own.

Because of economic, social and cultural reasons, Christopher Brown said, minority populations tend to be underregistered and more transient, which is "why you need to have more blacks [in a ward] than just 50 percent."

'A better job'

"It's impossible to create three 65 percent African-American or minority voting districts, but our map does a better job of it than the city's," Christopher Brown said, noting that the NAACP plan would create two wards that would be 61 percent black and a third that would be about 57 percent black. "It's not as though our mapmaker is a shrewd guy that knows how to make maps. The city could have come up with a similar map if it had wanted to."

Also under the NAACP plan, Ward 3 Alderman Samuel Gilmer, an African-American Democrat, and Ward 4 Alderman Joseph Sachs, a white Republican, would be pitted against each other in a new Ward 3, which would be 61 percent black. Under the city committee's plan, no incumbents square off.

Lawyer Frederick C. Sussman, chairman of the city's redistricting committee, said Friday that the committee sought to create wards of about equal population that, to the greatest extent possible, kept neighborhoods intact and provided fair opportunity for all city residents to participate fairly in the electoral process.

He said the committee was aware that general population does not reflect voting-age population, but said substantial size differences between the black and white populations in its proposed majority-black wards would "still result in clear African-American voting majorities."

Under the city committee's proposed plan, also to be discussed Tuesday night, Ward 3 would be about 78 percent black, Ward 6 about 58 percent black and Ward 4 about 49 percent black. Ward 4's total minority population would be just under 51 percent and would include people who identify themselves as Asian, as members of two or more races and as "other."

The NAACP has called the committee's proposed Ward 4 a "swing ward," saying it would not guarantee minority representation. But Sussman said the proposed ward provides a chance for blacks to have a "significant impact" on selecting an alderman.

Race 'a consideration'

The redistricting of Ward 4 was a tough task for the committee. It had attempted to take some whites out of the ward, but they would have come from the large, mostly white, middle-class Germantown-Homewood neighborhood, which is now split among three wards.

In the end, the committee decided to consolidate the neighborhood into two wards, which meant moving a black community that would have increased Ward 4's minority base back to the heavily black Ward 3.

Donnell L. Harris, an African-American author who represented the city's Democratic Central Committee on the redistricting panel, said he was disappointed that Ward 4's black population was not increased.

Sussman said that "race was certainly a consideration among others in developing the ward lines" and that the committee complied with the federal Voting Rights Act in drawing its plan. However, he said, the act does not guarantee that a minority group "will achieve or is entitled to any specific number of representatives on an elected legislative body."

Michael Brown of the NAACP has said the city's proposed plan would damage communities, but Sussman said the NAACP's plan would result in an "unacceptable division" of the Heritage and Homewood communities by drawing a line down Cherry Grove Avenue.

"It appears that the NAACP plan has intentionally split several white neighborhoods for the purpose of achieving a racial objective," Sussman said.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that in the 1997 city election, a black candidate was elected as a write-in from a majority white ward and a white Republican candidate was elected from a predominantly African-American ward," Sussman said. The idea that there needs to be an overwhelmingly black voting district, he said, is a fallacy.

Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the right of governments to consider race in creating voting districts, as long as it is not the only factor. The local NAACP has threatened to challenge in federal court any plan that diluted black influence in city wards.

The new voting districts will be used in the fall mayoral and aldermanic elections.

A public hearing on the committee's plan will take place during the council meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.

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