Redistricting may lead to battle lines Lawmakers may lose safe seats as city loses districts.

March 01, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore legislators, usually allies in Annapolis, may soon be at each other's throats as their districts are redrawn.

With the exodus to the suburbs continuing, the city stands to lose at least one and maybe two of its nine districts when new lines are drawn to reflect the 1990 census. That means a loss of clout in Annapolis as well as the loss of safe seats for four, and maybe eight, of the 36 city lawmakers.

"We realize that somebody will have to be bumped," said Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-City. "It's a fact of life, and politicians don't have any trouble facing the facts of life."

But, even so, as new population figures for each of the state's 47 legislative districts circulated around Annapolis this week, some legislators were beginning to worry.

"That's unbelievable. Something's wrong," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-City, when he saw for the first time that his South Baltimore district needs about 20,000 more people to reach the statewide average of 101,733.

"I can't believe the district has lost that many people," said an equally surprised Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, D-City, whose West Baltimore district is 27,524 below the state average, meaning its lines must be massively redrawn.

For city lawmakers, the 1990 census is likely to be a repeat of the 1980 census: A population decline 10 years ago cost the city two legislative districts.

Legislative districts must be configured so that each has roughly the same population. Gov. William Donald Schaefer will submit a map to the 1992 General Assembly, and unless legislators can agree on ways to change it, the plan will become law.

The redistricting process will be one of Schaefer's last major chances as governor to help his political friends and punish his enemies.

Lawmakers are expected to tinker heavily with the plan. Legislators will run for election in the new districts for the first time in 1994.

Schaefer's press secretary, Paul E. Schurick, said it is "premature" to discuss how the lines may be drawn.

Baltimore's loss in Annapolis will be the suburbs' gain. Montgomery County has gained nearly 180,000 people and probably will pick up at least one legislative district. The 15th district, in western Montgomery County, has grown so much that its population is more than 60,000 above the ideal district size of 101,733.

Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said the new district numbers are encouraging. He noted that Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties picked up large numbers of residents since the 1980 census. Republicans have made substantial gains in all three of those counties.

"I'm smiling," Igoe said.

With more power shifting to more conservative, suburban areas, city legislators say it is crucial to salvage more state help for Baltimore before a new legislature is elected in 1994.

"That's why we're trying so hard to have an impact in these four years," said Del. Curtis S. Anderson, D-City.

"The city now has three votes on the [Senate] budget committee," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City. "We'll never be able to sustain that after the next election. Three out of 13 is very, very good."

Many people are predicting that the Baltimore district most likely to disappear is Lapides' own 44th. Strangely shaped and locked in the middle of the city, the 44th could be squeezed out of existence from all sides. Lapides, a maverick in the Senate, could also be a personal target of the people drawing the lines.

"I'm not the least bit nervous," said Lapides, who is now in his eighth four-year term in the legislature. "I've gone through many redistrictings. Each time they say I can't possibly win, but each time I come back."

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