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Baltimore switches to single-member districts

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  • midwestdemocracy
    Baltimore switched from three-member districts to single-member districts. They didn t use cumulative voting or choice voting, so that the political minority
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 20, 2002
      Baltimore switched from three-member districts to single-member
      districts. They didn't use cumulative voting or choice voting, so
      that the political minority would win one of the three seats, but
      they could have. Here's an article from the Baltimore Sun (taken from
      the ACORN site at www.acorn.org). Does anyone know any of the
      Baltimore city council members who supported multi-member districts?
      Perhaps they would support an initiative that brought back multi-
      member districts with cumulative voting or choice voting, and earn
      the support of the advocates of single-member districts.

      Baltimore City Voters OK Reshaping of City Council
      Community-labor groups back Question P to create single-member
      districts; 'We should move forward'; Approval also means body to have
      4 fewer members
      Baltimore Sun
      Nov. 6 , 2002

      By Laura Vozzella

      Baltimoreans voted overwhelmingly to reshape the City Council
      yesterday, handing a final defeat to a group of city leaders who had
      been outmaneuvered by a scrappy community-labor coalition and stymied
      by the state's highest court.
      "Baltimore has clearly chosen that we should move forward," said
      Sultan Shakir, an activist with the community group ACORN, which
      backed ballot Question P.
      The measure, which passed by a nearly 2-1 margin, cuts four seats
      from the 19-member council and does away with multimember districts.
      The plan was intended to save money, make it easier for less-
      established candidates to get elected and increase accountability on
      the council.
      Critics warned that it would fracture the city into small, self-
      interested districts and reduce minority representation.
      "No one ever wants to lose, particularly when they feel very
      passionate about a system that works," said Council President Sheila
      Dixon, who opposed the plan. "The people looking from the outside
      sometimes don't have a real understanding about what goes on and how
      this could be a detriment to moving the city forward."
      Among voters who favored Question P was Dorothy Ciofani, 67, a
      lifelong Canton resident who works at a gas station in the
      neighborhood. "I feel like there are too many of them, and what do
      they do?" she said.
      But Frances Jamison, 70, of West Baltimore said shrinking the council
      wasn't something a city on the rebound should do.
      "I'm worried about things building up, not tearing down," she said.
      Placed on the ballot by a coalition of community activists and labor
      unions, Question P faced fierce opposition from council members,
      whose first plan to foil the measure fell apart because they hatched
      it at a closed-door session that apparently violated the state's Open
      Meetings Act.
      Question P creates 14 council districts of one member each, replacing
      the current system of six, three-member districts. The council
      president will continue to be elected citywide under the new
      arrangement, which takes effect for the 2004 election. The plan
      represents the first change to the council structure since 1967, when
      membership was cut from 21 to 19.
      The council lined up some high-profile political support for the anti-
      P campaign, including Mayor Martin O'Malley and Del. Howard P.
      Rawlings, one of Maryland's most powerful politicians and the father
      of the council's vice president.
      But the pro-P coalition had strong organizational and financial
      support that included ACORN and the American Federation of State,
      County and Municipal Employees Local 44.
      Union backing - AFSCME leaders openly called it payback for
      privatization of about 260 city jobs in the past two years -
      apparently gave the measure a big boost. Jeffrey Jones, 30, a city
      sewer worker, voted for Question P, which he learned about at AFSCME
      meetings. So did his wife, Danuelle. "The people need to be heard,"
      he said.
      The coalition spent months collecting signatures to get the question
      on the ballot in what many observers assumed would be a futile
      effort. The League of Women Voters, which was part of the effort, had
      tried to put a referendum for a 10-member council on the ballot two
      years ago, but fell short of the required 10,000 petition signatures.
      There was more eye-rolling than concern among council members in May,
      when the coalition dispatched a summer intern dressed in a leotard,
      mask and cape to deliver the first pile of petitions to City Hall.
      But by late July, city elections officials confirmed that the group
      had cleared the 10,000-signature hurdle. The council scrambled to put
      a rival measure on the ballot that also would have cut four seats but
      retain multimember districts.
      Council members said they wanted to give voters a choice. Critics
      accused them of trying to sabotage the coalition plan and save their
      $48,000-a-year part-time jobs, since the two measures would have
      appeared as separate ballot questions and likely would have canceled
      each other out if both passed.
      In late September, in response to a lawsuit filed by the coalition,
      the state Court of Appeals stripped the council's plan from the
      ballot because Dixon had rallied support for it at the closed-door
      council meeting, for which no public notice was given.
      PHOTO: Outside a polling place at the Towanda Recreation Center in
      Baltimore, community activist Willie Ray hands campaign literature
      for Question P allowing single-member City Council districts to
      Cornell and Shirley Paige as their grandson, Dalijah Pope, watches
      them. (Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)
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