Mobile adopts map that, for first time ever, includes majority Black council representation (2022)

Mobile city officials adopted Tuesday new boundaries for its seven council districts wrapping up seven months of continuous debate that could, for the first time in history, give voters the opportunity to elect a majority Black council.

In 6-0 vote described as “historic,” the council adopted a so-called “compromise map” that contains four majority Black council districts and three districts with a majority of white voters. The council has long consisted of four white members, three Black. Councilwoman Gina Gregory abstained from the final vote.

Related:

  • Mobile leaders to push redistricting plan to the very end with August vote
  • ‘Don’t take us back to Jim Crow’: Redistricting sparks passion, racial tensions in Alabama cities
  • With prayer and protest, Mobile’s ‘divisive’ redistricting process moves toward conclusion

“History was made from the standpoint of equity, diversity and inclusion in this decision,” said Robert Clopton, president of the Mobile County chapter of the NAACP. “It provides an opportunity for a Black majority on the council, which is a first in the city of Mobile.”

The new map will not take effect until the next city election in 2025.

Mobile adopts map that, for first time ever, includes majority Black council representation (1)

But the vote might not close the door on redistricting. The entire process could begin anew if an annexation plan, currently in the works by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration, is approved by the council and voted on by Mobilians during a future election.

Stimpson did not want to dive into any annexation talks after the redistricting vote. An annexation plan, if adopted, could make Mobile – currently the state’s fourth largest city with 187,041 residents -- the second-largest city in Alabama behind only Huntsville, which has a population over 215,000.

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“We need to catch our breath on this one before we talk about annexation,” Stimpson said.

Compromise map

The city’s newly-adopted redistricting map was described as a compromise introduced in late July and served as an alternative to two maps that did not have enough council support – one introduced by Stimpson’s administration in February, and an alternative map rolled out in April that was supported by Councilman William Carroll and by a host of Black pastors and community activists.

The council, in separate votes Tuesday, shot down the mayor’s map and the community map before voting to support the compromise version. Neither the mayor’s map nor the community map got more than two supportive votes. It takes a five-vote supermajority to pass most items before the Mobile City Council.

“We knew we didn’t have five votes for the mayor’s plan,” said Councilman Ben Reynolds. “I think the community plan has merits and satisfies constituent concerns. There just wasn’t five votes for it. To find consensus and a way forward, I thought it was important we tried to thread the needle.”

The biggest looming issue had been the racial demographic makeup of District 7, which has been represented for the past 17 years by Gregory, who is white.

Under the compromise map, the district in the northwest area of Mobile will consist of a voting age population that is 53.2% Black, 41.2% white. It is a considerable shift from its previous 48% white-45% Black voting-age population split that was established after the 2010 Census.

(Video) Committee on Redistricting on September 29, 2022

Under the mayor’s proposed map, District 7 would have had a voting-age population of 51% Black-42% white.

For months, community activists pushed for a larger Black majority in District 7 than what was reflected in the mayor’s proposal, creating what Gregory said was a “battleground” in Mobile’s redistricting efforts.

Activists wanted a 53% Black majority to solidify the city’s stature as a majority-minority community and to make it more reflective of the city’s overall demographics within the 2020 U.S. Census. The city’s demographics, according to Census data, are 51.3% Black-40.8% white, a considerable shift from its 50.4% Black-45.4% white split in 2010.

Supporters for the 53% Black majority in District 7 continued to make their case during Tuesday’s council meeting. All told, 14 people spoke out on the city’s redistricting proposals.

“Mobile is legally and morally obligated to provide a fourth district to allow the Black community to elect a candidate of their choice,” said the Rev. Corey Brown, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Mobile.

Council reacts

Mobile adopts map that, for first time ever, includes majority Black council representation (2)

Gregory said she would have preferred for her colleagues to have supported the mayor’s map. She said the mayor’s map would have upheld the intentions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it added a fourth majority Black district.

She also said she was unaware that her colleagues, beginning in late July, had been working on the compromise map.

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Gregory also defended her tenure as council representative for the entire district and said she has directed more than $21 million in capital improvement funds for her District 7.

“I’ve worked to make my district and my city a better place for everyone to live and work and play,” she said.

Gregory said she “tried not to be offended” by the comments throughout the year about a need to ensure her district is represented by a Black politician. She also noted that she was re-elected during the 2021 municipal elections with well over 80% of the vote.

“I’m a politician and I have to deal with whatever criticism is leveled at me,” she said. “But I’m offended for the people of my district who know I are capable of electing a candidate of their choice without someone from outside the district determining what those district lines should be.”

Gregory was not the only council member who felt queasy over the final maps, though she was the only one to not vote in support of the compromise version.

Council President C.J. Small said he was concerned over the loss of the Maysville community, which has long been geographically included in his District 3 boundaries.

Small said he backed the compromise map to ensure his council colleagues and the Stimpson administration can negotiate on other issues in the years ahead.

Councilman Scott Jones, who vowed to abstain on voting for a map unless a corresponding annexation plan was included, said he backed the compromise map because of supportive calls he got from constituents in his District 6. Jones’ district has the highest white concentration of white voters, at 67.3%.

He said the inclusion of two neighborhoods – Regency and Cross Gates Place – enabled him to vote for the compromise version.

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Councilman Joel Daves, whose District 5 will now consists of the Village of Spring Hill, voted in support of all three maps. Spring Hill had been in Gregory’s District 7.

Gregory was the only other council member to vote “Yes” on the mayor’s map, with Carroll the other “Yes” vote on the community map. All the other council members abstained on the two defeated maps.

Daves said his vote in support of the compromise map was to do what was “best in the long-term interest of the city as a whole.”

Carroll, who has made redistricting a major focal point for the city since he took office in November, said the 6-0 vote on the compromise map was a “pleasant surprise.”

He added, “It tells me the eagerness of everyone wanting to work together to meet a common goal.”

Mobile’s vote on redistricting ends a long process that has long been settled in other Alabama cities that also had controversial moments on redrawing council boundaries. Maps drawn for council districts in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Montgomery were approved months ago.

For Mobile, it was a different story as activists zeroed in on redistricting as a way to redefine the city as a majority Black community for the first time since the city was founded in 1702.

“There has never been, in the 320 years since Mobile has existed, a chance for minorities to have a majority of districts if we so choose to elect (a majority Black council),” said Carroll. “I do believe history was made here today.”

(Video) Mobile City Council Meeting April 26, 2022

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