Baltimore switches to single-member districts

midwestdemocracy midwestdemocracy at
Thu, 21 Nov 2002 05:15:14 -0000

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 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)