Smaller City Council? Sure, But Here’s What’s Needed

by Bob Kaufman
     Now that The Sun has put the discussion of reconstructing Baltimore City Council on the agenda (10-11-98) editorial, "Needed, a Smaller City Council"), let's use the occasion to really democratize Baltimore's electoral system.
     A nine-member City Council sounds OK to me.
     But, to make these nine members just a little bit more accountable to the voters, and opposed to the corporate interests which finance their campaigns, I would suggest the following:

  1. Under the principle that voters should have the right to vote for any candidate, regardless of residence, Baltimore should have City-wide, proportional representative elections. Such a system more truly represents voters in proportion to their numbers.
         Cincinnati began electing its City Council by proportional representation in 1925, which encouraged the creation of a third party, the Charter Party, and allowed Blacks to elect council representatives in 1931, almost uniquely early.

  2. A more democratic City Council would elect its President as well as its Vice-president. This would save a lot of competitiveness of interest as well as a lot of money.

  3. A more democratic City Council could hire a professional City Manager and do away with the highly politicized office of Mayor. This could give a truly representative City Council effective power to implement the peoples' interests without the huge expense of time and money wasted on Mayor and City Council infighting.     Why should there be a separation between the legislative and the executive? Shouldn't those who make the laws have the responsibility to carry them out?
         We need a Mayor like the first Continental Congress needed a king.
         What about making it easier for more folks to vote?
         There are three categories of City residents who are prohibited from voting.

    • The prohibition on felons voting was concocted by the same Southern racists who instituted the poll tax and the grandfather clause--to reduce the vote of Blacks and poor people in general.
           Spurred on by this phony War on Drug Addicts, a high portion of low income, young black men are effectively disenfranchised for life. For shame!

    • Immigrants who may not be U.S. citizens, but if they live in Baltimore should be treated as Baltimore City citizens and given back the vote. (They had such rights before the post-World War I anti-Communist hysteria took it from them.)

    • Lower the voting age to 16 and coordinate it with the school system. Sixteen- to 18-year-olds would then probably become the best-informed voters in the City and (having tasted real democracy) would likely remain more responsible citizens throughout their lives.

  4. We have the technology to entirely do away with pre-registration, thus saving about one million dollars a year on maintaining registration records while removing one more hindrance to voting.

  5. In situations where the Mayor or City Council fails or refuses to carry out the wishes of the people (an excellent example of which would be the refusal to create a non-profit insurance cooperative which would provide auto and home insurance at cost and be owned by its policyholders), Baltimore citizens should have the right to petition to initiate legislation and have it voted upon at the next election.

  6. And finally--why do we need primary elections?
         Why can't candidates in a general election, along with having their name on the ballot, also choose a word or two to describe their political affiliation, such as Democrat, Republican, Socialist, Green, Fascist, etc.?
         If the Democrats or Republicans or anyone else wants to have a primary--let them do so at their own expense.

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This story was published on Mar. 3, 1999.