Gloria Sipes, a graying, retired bookkeeper who stands barely a notch over 5 feet tall, is not someone readily associated with hot-blooded secessionist movements. But that may be about to change.
The community activist is one of several South Baltimore residents who are so fed up with City Hall that they're leading a drive to be annexed by Anne Arundel County.
A bill introduced Monday in the Maryland Senate calls for the Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Hawkins Point and Fairfield areas to
become part of the county. If successful, the effort would drastically alter the city's map -- removing its familiar lower peninsula -- and make county residents out of 14,000 Baltimoreans.
Few State House veterans give the bill much of a chance, and some suspect it is an attempt to influence the coming redistricting battle. But it is gaining widespread support among community groups who are organizing a bus convoy to Annapolis to lobby in its favor. At the very least, they say, the effort should draw attention to their grievances.
"I'm tired of being dumped on with every dirty industry. No one seems to listen and no one seems to care," said Sipes, 64, the president of the Community of Curtis Bay Association. She said her group has not taken an official position on the bill yet, but she suspects it will be strongly supported.
The bill calls for precincts 14 through 21 of the 25th Ward to be annexed into Anne Arundel Jan. 1, 1992, if approved in a referendum of the residents of the precincts in November.
The bill addresses some housekeeping issues: Suspected criminals arrested in the area before the annexation would be tried in the city courts. City property left in the region will become county property, and buildings in the area will continue to abide by city codes but will be subject to county codes enacted in the future.
"I am an extension of the people that elect me and when they tell me to do something, I had best do it," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-City. The affected neighborhoods represent about one-fifth his 47th Legislative District.
One of the most heavily industrialized regions in the city, the area is home to chemical factories, coal piers, cement makers, oil and gas tank farms and a shipyard. Its cancer rate is among the highest in the state.
Construction of a medical waste incinerator was completed last October, infuriating residents. They opposed the $26 million project, but it was approved by the City Council as a way of consolidating incineration now being conducted at sites around the city.
Sipes, who has spent about 40 years in South Baltimore, including the last 20 in a Curtis Bay rowhouse two blocks from the coal piers, said the city has deliberately steered industry to the area. The result has been a steady encroachment on residents and their quality of life, she said.
Though the industry would not disappear with annexation, the county appears more concerned with the environment and may be more skeptical of future projects there, she said.
Doris McGuigan, a Brooklyn resident, said city services are lacking. She has been trying for years to get another street light in her block, and she said she thinks the county would be more responsive.
"It seems like the end of the Hanover Street bridge is where everything stops. We're the forgotten area over here," she said. She also likes the idea of the county's lower property tax and car insurance rates.
"I'd be the happiest person in the world to secede," McGuigan said.
State law provides for such annexations with a bill by the General Assembly and the vote of a majority of the residents in the region affected. The city and county governments and residents outside the precincts to be annexed have no official say in the matter.
Changes in boundaries occur from time to time -- last year a sliver of Montgomery County became part of Prince George's -- but rarely are such large tracts involved. In 1918, the procedure was used to bring the region affected by Della's bill out of the county and into the city.
Della's move caught many officials by surprise. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall were unaware of the bill, their aides said yesterday.
Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, whose district abuts the region to be annexed, said, "We share the same concerns and interests. We'd certainly welcome them into our subdivision."
Some county residents have been frustrated with pollution wafting over from the city side and would like more say in what is done there, he said.
The 47th's delegates, Democrats Brian K. McHale and Paul Weisengoff, predicted the bill would die an early death in the Senate Rules Committee. So did City Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th. But he added that he is not surprised the idea has support among residents.
"The City of Baltimore has generally treated this area as a dumping ground," Murphy said. "I wouldn't want to lose my constituents, but if I thought it would improve their quality of life I would work with them."
Several people speculated that the bill was an attempt to indirectly influence the continuing effort to redraw the state's legislative districts in accord with the 1990 Census.
Della's district needs about 20,000 residents to come up to the state average of 101,733. Anne Arundel's districts are about the right size.
Legislative districts do not necessarily follow city-county borders, although they often do. The southern edge of the 47th district does. Della suggested yesterday that a portion of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties could be brought into city districts to limit Baltimore's losses to one state Senate seat.