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Question P Falls Short Of Intended Changes
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August 18, 2011
In 2002, Baltimore voters passed Question P, a ballot initiative that switched the city council from six three-member districts to 14 single-member districts. Was it change for the better, or change for the sake of change? As the September 13th primary election approaches, WYPR’s Mike Adams provides this report.
For Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes, of District 12, talking about Question P is like picking at a scab. It diluted African-American political clout in City Hall, he says. And, it erased gains made in 1991, when he led a redistricting battle that resulted in the election of more black council members, so, that the makeup of the council reflected Baltimore's population.
“The redistricting of ’91 fixed some of the imbalance there was, in terms of representation by women and African-Americans and progressive candidates. I think the single-member districts were, in some ways, not so good. African-Americans lost in the single-member district system.”
Question P shrank the council from 19 to 15 members with the council president continuing to be elected at-large. Now, some of the city's most affluent areas are represented by white council members and blacks tend to represent poorer neighborhoods. It the battle for money and city services, it is becoming increasingly difficult for black council members, adds Stokes, to meet the needs of their constituents.
“The African-American council persons are working to ensure neighborhood strength and a number of the non-African-Americans are working on the interests of the business development community. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but it has become a divide in terms of resources. And, you’re seeing much less resources going to communities of color.”
Local 44, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, and ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, spearheaded the push for Question P. ACORN, which once boasted a nationwide membership of 350-thousand, shutdown amid a series of scandals. Former ACORN activist, Michelle Moore, concedes that the organization’s demise quelled the populist energy that fueled the drive for Question P.
“One of the great things about ACORN, we went down to City Hall and we saw how the votes were happening. And, that’s something you don’t see when a candidate says, ‘I’m for the children. Yeah, I’m for the neighborhood.’ ‘Yeah, I’m for great schools. ’ You don’t see that.’’
Question P’s proponents predicted it would do two things: make council members more accountable to constituents. And, make it easier for challengers to unseat incumbents. But so far, Question P has not shown a visible impact.
Stuart Katzenberg, the former leader of the Maryland Chapter of ACORN, said the movement for Question P has undermined by its opponents. He pointed out that the city’s political establishment adamantly opposed the measure and fought hard to derail the push to get it enacted. And, the coalition of labor and community groups has since broken down.
“Community groups haven’t been as organized together to mount credible opposition to incumbents, who vote the wrong way, and that lack of organization has resulted in some good candidates not winning and number of incumbents staying in office.”
Asked what he meant by voting the “wrong way,” Katzenberg replied:
“Voting against the working people of Baltimore, cutting city services. Not holding accountable big industries such as the banks that have ravaged the city with foreclosures. Slumlords, who poison our children. Or holding our housing authority accountable for the terrible shape of our public housing units.”
Question P changed the Baltimore city council map, but so far, one thing remains unchanged: in this overwhelmingly Democratic town, the winner of the Democratic primary is a virtual shoe-in general election.
I’m Mike Adams, reporting in Baltimore, for 88.1 WYPR.
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