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Ward plan under attack


Annapolis' redistricting committee will meet next week with local NAACP representatives who are concerned with how the committee proposes redrawing the city's eight voting districts.

The Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has criticized the city committee's plan recommending two majority black wards and a ward in which various minorities together constitute a majority.

At the request of Mayor Dean L. Johnson, the committee agreed to the meeting.

The civil rights group has alleged that Annapolis' proposal is unfair to African-Americans - who make up more than 30 percent of the city's population - and is pushing an alternative plan that would create three majority black wards and, most likely, result in the election of a third black alderman.

The meeting is scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Stanton Community Center in Annapolis.

"The NAACP is interested in developing a third ward in which minority people of voting age pose a majority," said Christopher Brown, a lawyer with Brown, Goldstein & Levy of Baltimore and an associate professor at the University of Maryland law school, who presented the NAACP proposal Tuesday night during a public hearing on the city committee's plan.

"The proposed plan by the city does not do that," Brown said yesterday. "Our proposed plan does."

The NAACP's plan relies on voting-age population figures in determining the racial composition of the city's wards - not the general population numbers used by the city committee. For example, 10 people may reside in a house, but only two may be of voting age.

NAACP officials have said that their approach organizes potential black voters into stronger voting blocs and ensures that minorities have a fair chance of electing one of their own.

Under the NAACP plan, there would be African-American majorities of 61 percent in Wards 3 and 4 and a nearly 57 percent majority in Ward 5.

By contrast, the redistricting committee's plan would create an African-American majority of nearly 78 percent in Ward 3 and a nearly 56 percent majority in Ward 6. Ward 4 would be nearly 49 percent black, but it'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 attorney Frederick C. Sussman, chairman of the city's redistricting committee, has said the proposed ward provides a chance for blacks to have a "significant impact" on selecting an alderman.

Sussman said yesterday that his committee is open to hearing the NAACP's concerns, but added that he was "disappointed" that the NAACP did not work with the redistricting committee from the start.

At a March 20 public hearing on redistricting, Michael T. Brown Sr., political action chairman for county NAACP branch, told the city committee that the NAACP would submit a ward map for consideration by April 3, Sussman said.

"They did not do this and had no further communication with the committee," Sussman said. "It would have enlightened us to what some of [their] concerns were and it could have been part of our deliberations process. We had not begun to put mouse to computer at that point." The city committee submitted its recommendation to the city council earlier this month.

"If we had stayed involved and were not satisfied with the results, we would have had a harder position to come back from; it would have been harder to challenge," Michael Brown said yesterday.

The local NAACP has threatened to challenge in federal court any plan that dilutes black influence in city wards.

Sussman said the committee sought to create wards of about equal population that, to the extent possible, keep neighborhoods intact and provide fair opportunity for all city residents to participate 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."

Christopher Brown said that he hopes the committee and NAACP officials can finds ways Monday to "keep neighborhoods together, but still enhance the minority vote."

City officials want to adopt a new ward map by June 25 in anticipation of mayoral and aldermanic elections in the fall.

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