Why do I feel like the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol will soon seem like a warm, safe place compared to Mobile? Because Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office has said it will put forth a new annexation plan next month, that’s why.
I imagine the sound of constant Russian shelling and buildings being obliterated will almost feel soothing compared to the verbal assaults on logic and reason we are about to endure as anti-annexation members of the City Council fight to keep the city from growing and new residents from “diluting” any of their perceived power.
OK, maybe comparisons to a city and its people being systematically destroyed by a despotic power fall far into the realm of rhetorical hyperbole, but it’s not a reach to say blocking an annexation vote in West Mobile will have lasting damaging effects on this city. We won’t see buildings falling, we’ll just see them being built in the sparkling new cities that eventually spring up on Mobile’s west side once the people of WeMo are shunned one too many times.
All we’re talking about is allowing a vote, but it’s complicated, to say the least.
Making things worse is the annexation debate will have to sail through the wake of an already contentious and increasingly ridiculous redistricting battle. I can’t imagine anyone on the council — even those most ardently in favor of annexation — relishes the idea of going through an entirely new redistricting process if a referendum is allowed and 15,000 or so new residents join the city.
Anyone who’s paid a bit of attention to redistricting knows all the controversy has spun on race — specifically ethnic majorities in the city’s seven districts. Redistricting must take place every 10 years after the census is taken to more or less “even things out again.” In Mobile, population shift from east to west has been the trend, meaning the easternmost districts need to have boundary lines changed so as to take in more people, while some of the western districts need changes that will reduce population. The districts all need to end up with roughly the same amount of citizens.
Of course, that would be easily accomplished if we were all gray or purple, but as with almost everything in Mobile, race becomes a sticking point.
Because the majority of citizens are African American, it makes complete sense that the majority of the districts will now have a Black majority. As the plan currently stands, there will be three districts with large Black majorities, one with a large White majority, one with a small Black majority, one with a small White majority and one that will have more Black voters than White, but neither in the majority.
Still, squabbling continues over the plan, most of it centered around District 7, which will now be a Black majority district. The first complaint about the plan in D7 was that when it came to voting-age citizens, there was not a Black majority. Changes were made, and there’s now a 51 percent majority of voting-age Black residents and a larger majority of Black citizens of every age, but complaining continues. Activists want to see that voting age number raised to 53 percent to help compensate for poor voter turnout in the Black community.
As I’ve said several times, this continued fighting over a couple of percentage points seems ridiculous when voter turnout citywide was just 24 percent in the last election. I’m not sure there’s really a way to make a district iron-clad White or Black when turnout is so low. I think we all suffer when districts are created with the idea being that only one ethnic group will have a chance to represent everyone in the district.
Regardless, I only bring that up to point out the touchiness of the subject. While the reality is that White Sandy Stimpson got more than 60 percent of the vote in the Black majority city last year, and Gina Gregory and Joel Daves won huge victories in districts that were roughly 50-50, politicians still believe in the concept of Black or White districts. I think what Mobile has already shown many times is that candidates make the difference. Sam Jones was elected mayor when Mobile was majority White because he was believed to be the best candidate. He lost to Stimpson (twice) with the city majority Black because Jones didn’t inspire voters of either race.
Mobile needs annexation regardless of all the efforts by politicians to assure themselves of victory. We have already missed out on $100 million in federal COVID dollars because the last annexation effort was thwarted. Every examination points to annexation bringing in millions more in tax dollars in the short term and that growth could be exponential in the future.
Allowing the city to be boxed in as a means of trying to protect “Black voting power” will be a huge mistake if councilors go down that same road. But we’re already hearing the same inane argument for not allowing a vote — that the city is losing population, so until we fix that, we shouldn’t try to annex our way into prosperity.
Maybe that sounds logical to some people, but if 2,800 people want to leave the city and 15,000 want to join it, that’s a pretty big net gain. Yes, most of those coming in will be White, but the city would remain majority Black.
It’s also worth noting that no one applies that same logic to City Council districts. If we had to wait until District 2 stops losing residents before adding more back, I doubt Councilman William Carroll would think that makes much sense. His district isn’t broken, but the city is?
If Cher and I could turn back time, it would make the most sense for annexation to have already taken place so this painful redistricting process would be one and done. But that’s the last council’s fault. This council has until August to approve a redistricting plan, and it probably wouldn’t be wise or even possible to try to cram an annexation vote in before that.
So, even facing the fatiguing necessity of having to go through “all of this” again, members of the City Council need to get it together for the common good and allow an annexation vote. Mobile needs it to help secure a better future and keep from being cut off like a city under siege.
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