On the last day for most of its members, the Baltimore City Council passed, without discussion, the first comprehensive rezoning plan the city has had in 40 years. It also advanced a bill that would provide city residents special I.D. cards to help streamline the provision of city services. And it spent more than a half hour on a roll-call vote about whether to re-brand Columbus Day as "Indigenous People's Day."
"I'm proud that the federal government established a day to give credit to a wonderful, wonderful community of people," Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector (5th District) said in explaining her vote against the measure. Still sporting a black eye after recently being assaulted by a couple of teenagers during an attempted car-jacking, Spector praised Italian-Americans and said that Thanksgiving is the day America celebrates indigenous people, to audible gasps in the packed council chamber.
There were partisans for both sides of the issue, so small cheers arose when the measure failed with seven in favor, six opposed, and two abstentions. (City Council matters need at least eight votes—half plus one—to advance).
Then a group of protesters began chanting in the balcony: "There is no pride in genocide!" Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young hammered on his desk and warned them they'd be removed if they didn't quiet down.
Voting in favor of the re-naming were Young, Councilmen Brandon Scott (2nd District), Bill Henry (4th District), Carl Stokes (12th District), Nick Mosby (7th District) and Councilwomen Sharon Green Middleton (6th District) and Helen Holton (8th District). Besides Spector, no votes came from Councilmen James Kraft (1st District), Edward Reisinger (10th District), Robert Curran (3rd District), Eric Costello (11th District), and Warren Branch (13th District). Councilman William "Pete" Welch and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke both abstained. Clarke said she was sympathetic to both sides of the issue, but had not yet educated herself enough about it to make a decision. "I'm trying to learn it as fast as I can," she said.
Young then thanked all the out-going city council members, set to be replaced by newly-elected members on Thursday: Kraft, Curran, Spector, Mosby, Holton, Stokes, Branch, and Welch. Then, just as it seemed to be winding down, he opened the floor for comment, and each outgoing council member stood to give a speech, thanking back Young, their staffs, families, predecessors, and incoming replacements while, just outside the big double doors, huge trays of catered food grew tepid.
"This is not an easy job," Kraft said. "It's a 36-hour job and you have 24 hours to do it."
Stokes' speech was far and away the funniest, built around an anecdote concerning Young's pilfering of candy. But Welch said the funniest single thing. "It wasn't an easy decision, walking into those shoes," he said, ruminating on his 28-year career as his mother's city council aide before being appointed to her seat upon retirement. "Those shoes are enormous."
Behind him, former Councilwoman Agnes Welch stood up, all 4-feet-seven of her, to general appreciation.
Her shoes were not immediately visible to observers.