Mobile leaders to push redistricting plan to the very end with August vote

The Birmingham City Council enacted new boundary lines for its nine council districts in April.

Tuscaloosa, despite contentious debate, did the same in February. Auburn and Montgomery also voted in their new city council districts in January. Huntsville did the same last year.

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But in Mobile, the ongoing talks that could lead to the city’s first-ever majority-minority council will continue a little while longer. The City Council determined on Tuesday that it will not vote on a redistricting map until August 9, which is only three days before the drop-dead deadline for a new map to be put into effect.

If the council does not vote on a redistricting plan by August 12, then a plan pitched by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson in February will automatically go into effect.

And that plan is viewed by Black church leaders and others as not going far enough to solidify the city’s majority-Black status.

“Anything that has this much importance or the possibility of changing history will consume a lot of oxygen,” said Councilman William Carroll, who is sponsoring one of the two maps under consideration. “The people beating these drums have been beating them a long time. They feel as if the city should represent its elected positions based on its population. ”

Racial polarization, annexation

The council had originally established June 21 as the date it would vote on its redistricting plan for the seven city council seats.

A delay, however, in getting a racial polarized voting study underway is the main reason why a final decision will not be made until August.

Council members confirmed on Tuesday that there have been no public bids on a contract to conduct a racial polarization study. The deadline seeking proposal requests to conduct the study is by midnight.

“It seemed advisable to lay the vote off to get the racial polarization study done and the results heard by council,” Carroll said. “As of today, we have not gotten a response to the (request for proposal).”

A racial polarization study is expected to take a deeper look into the voter patterns within the communities of Mobile, examine demographics of an area and the polling returns of precincts after the 2021 municipal election.

The study is also supposed to examine why some segments of Mobile are opting not to vote, and the issues that might prevent higher turnouts.

At the same time, council members are receiving initial updates from the city’s administration this week on a proposed annexation plan.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration is working on an annexation proposal that would add “just under 26,000 residents,” according to James Barber, the mayor’s chief of staff.

Mobile’s population, according to the 2020 US Census, is 184,041 residents. With an additional 26,000 residents, the city’s new population count would be over 210,000. That would make Mobile comfortably the No. 2 largest city in Alabama, behind only fast-growing Huntsville which is at over 215,000 residents.

Mobile is Alabama’s fourth-largest city. It is currently behind Huntsville, Birmingham (200,733) and Montgomery (200,603) in population.

Related story: Could Mobile soon be Alabama’s second largest city? Annexation talks heat up

Barber said the city is not proceeding with annexation until after redistricting is concluded. In recent weeks, Councilman Scott Jones has pushed to have annexation and redistricting considered at the same time.

“We are putting that off until we meet with the councilors,” Barber said when asked when an annexation plan might be released publicly, and when meetings might take place with interested stakeholder groups like the West Mobile Annexation Committee.

“We have no intention of proceeding until after redistrict, which is August 12,” he said.

Barber said the annexation plan that will be pitched to council members will not “flip” the city’s majority Black population. He also said the administration is “mindful” that it has four Black majority council districts, and that they are committed to “trying to sustain that as well so we are not going backward as some people might think.”

The city’s approach to annexation comes almost three years after its last annexation plan in 2019 crumbled under fears that it would erode the city’s Black majority.

The city’s racial demographics in 2010 were 50.4% Black and 45.4% white. Under the 2019 annexation plan that would have added roughly 13,000 new residents, the city’s demographics would have been a more balanced 48.8% Black and 46.7% white.

The 2019 annexation plan focused on adding mostly unincorporated subdivisions and areas to the west of the said limits, which are mostly white. The council’s vote was 4-3 in support of moving ahead with annexation, but it needed a supermajority of five votes to pass. The results went along racial lines, with the council’s four white members in support and three Black members opposed.

According to the 2020 Census, Mobile has lost 10,570 white residents since 2010. The city’s Black population also experienced a decline of 2,697 residents.

Mobile’s racial demographics now stand at 51% Black, 40% White.

Contentious issue

Redistricting vigil

A coalition of Mobile residents and religious denominations gather inside Government Plaza’s atrium on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, for a prayer vigil on several city-related issues including redistricting. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

The split has the city moving forward with a historical council map that will consist of four majority Black districts, and three white districts. For years, the council demographic split has been four white council members, three Black.

But the demographics of one of those four districts – District 7, represented by Councilwoman Gina Gregory, who is white – remains an issue.

According to the redistricting plan pitched by Stimpson months ago, District 7 is proposed to be 50.6% Black.

That figure is too low for Carroll and a host of community activists and Black pastors. Carroll, in April, pitched an alternative redistricting map that would boost District 7′s Black representation to 53%.

For months, council meetings have been the site of comments from those concerned that the city is not doing enough to solidify its fourth majority Black district.

They spoke again on Tuesday.

“The focus should be on redistricting,” said Mobile resident Calvin Martin, imploring the council not to weigh in on an annexation plan until redistricting is finalized.

Carroll agreed, saying the timing is not right to mix the two together.

“There are some strong reasons for that to simply prevent unintended consequences of legal challenges from both sides,” said Carroll. “It’s not the time to go through a full annexation process where people vote before the (redistricting) process.”

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