The Annapolis City Council has ended 16 months of wrangling over how to redraw its councilmanic wards by approving a plan that varies slightly from existing lines. But despite changes made to address black voters' concerns, black leaders protested the decision.
Although blacks comprise 35 percent of the city's 31,740 residents, only one of the current eight alderman is black, and the mayor is also white. The plan adopted Monday night establishes only one black-dominated ward and divides another virtually in half between white and black residents.
"I think its effect is discriminatory," said Carl Snowden, a black member of a citizens' committee that proposed creating three black-dominated wards rather than the one created in the adopted plan.
"It effectively reduces two majority black wards to one. It's regressive."
The redistricting is mandated by the federal government every 10 years following the census, and will be put into effect in city elections next fall.
At the heart of a sometimes angry debate on the issue has been the question of whether ward lines should be redrawn to encourage a representative number of blacks on the council.
The citizens' panel, appointed last spring at the urging of black Alderman Samuel Gilmer, suggested major shifts in the eight wards to create three with black majorities that could potentially elect black aldermen. The plan was supported by Gilmer and leaders of the black community, some of whom served on the committee.
The ward split nearly evenly under the approved plan, Ward 5, which lies on the southwest edge of the city and will include two largely black public housing developments. It would have no incumbent and, therefore, be an easier target for a black candidate, said Alderman John R. Hammond, who introduced the plan.
Hammond's plan shifts him from his current Ward 5 into Ward 1, which is comprised of the city's historic and downtown business districts, to leave Ward 5's representation vacant.
The plan will pit Hammond, one of two Republicans on the council, against Democratic incumbent Gill Cochran next November, if both men decide to run.
Hammond said his major consideration in offering the plan was maintaining neighborhoods and addressing blacks' concerns that they were being shut out of elected office in the city.
Gilmer was absent last night because of illness, he said, but today he spoke angrily about the approved plan.
"I didn't like any of the eight plans proposed. I liked what the [citizens'] committee proposed. So why should I have been there? What could I have done? I was one black."
Under the approved plan, Gilmer's Ward 3 near Parole in northwestern Annapolis will remain nearly 90 percent black.
Ward 4, which stretches from downtown west to Parole, will lose its current 58 percent black majority to Ward 5. Blacks will comprise only 28 percent of Ward 4's new population.
Snowden said he is contemplating legal action to change the redistricting plan, but Mayor Richard L. Hillman, an attorney, said he is confident it will stand up to any legal test.
"They [black leaders] should be spending their time and money on getting candidates and getting them elected," said Hillman.