Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Four on committee oppose conclusion

NAACP study urged district elections

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Not everyone in the Cincinnati NAACP agrees with the group's recent report urging district elections for Cincinnati City Council - not even everyone whose name is on the study.

Four members of the committee that wrote that report say they oppose abolishing the at-large system of electing council members that has been in place since 1959.

Other systems of government - such as proportional representation, which existed from 1925 to 1957 - weren't adequately studied, said two members, fair housing advocate Karla Irvine and UC political scientist Jane Anderson.

They and two other members of the 11-member NAACP committee - Winton Hills activist Linda Briscoe and retired sociology instructor Art Slater - opposed the recommendation for districts.

"Clearly it's a volatile issue and there are people on both sides. That's true within the organization," said NAACP Chapter President Calvert Smith. "But a majority rules."

Districts, reformers say, would ensure a City Council that more accurately represents the city, would increase accountability to neighborhoods, and would reduce the costs of campaigning.

But others fear that districts would balkanize the city and result in a City Council even more politically divided.

"It penalizes African-Americans who move to predominately white areas if they want to vote for a black candidate who they feel better represents their views," said Irvine, the director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

Besides, she said, with a city population that's 43 percent African-American and rising, "We've hit that kind of critical mass where there's ample black representation on City Council," she said.

A district system is one of the two reform plans presented to City Council last month. The other would eliminate the city manager's position and replace it with an executive mayor. City Council is expected to vote next month whether to put those plans on the November ballot.


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