The Great Secession of South Baltimore -- a movement most observers thought was dead -- suddenly has a new but apparently short-term lease on life.
A bill that would allow 14,000 residents of the city's southern peninsula to vote on becoming part of adjacent Anne Arundel County is likely to come up for a Senate committee vote today.
The measure had been stalled for weeks in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Walter M. Baker, had been saying he would not bring the matter to a vote.
Baker, however, changed his mind yesterday. He said he would bring the bill to a vote today at the request of its sponsor, Sen. George A. Della Jr, a Democrat who represents the southern part of the city.
Sen. John A. Pica Jr., the Democratic chairman of the city's Senate delegation and a member of Baker's committee, vowed to kill the bill one way or the other. If it survives the committee vote, Pica said, he will work with the Senate president to stop it in the full Senate.
"The City of Baltimore is proud of these people and does not want to lose them," Pica said.
"We can't afford to lose a single citizen. That would retard our efforts to maintain eight Senate seats," Pica said of the upcoming reapportionment battle. The city, because its population has declined, stands to lose at least one and possibly two of its nine legislative districts when new districts are drawn to reflect the 1990 Census.
Della, however, said he believes his district residents should decide the issue. "All this does is give the people the right to vote on whether they want to stay in the city," Della said. "These people want it and I'll work it."
City officials, apparently confident the secession bill would fail, have kept a low profile on the issue, skipping the Senate committee hearing on it and rarely responding to reporter's inquiries about the measure. But city officials have worked behind the scenes to kill the bill, which few people gave much chance of success, Pica said.
If the residents were allowed to secede, city officials say, the city would lose more than $10 million a year in property- and income-tax revenues. City officials say they would save some money by not having to provide services to the region, but they believe the net effect would still be a loss of revenue.
Dolores Barnes, a community activist from the southern Baltimore neighborhood of Brooklyn, said residents have been calling committee members to urge passage.
"We want to try and get it out of committee," she said. "That was our goal. We can't perform miracles."
"If it dies in committee we will be back next year," Barnes added.
Another activist from the area, Doris McGuigan, said the issue has received an enthusiastic response from neighbors who quiz her at church and on the sidewalk about the bill's fate.
She hopes the measure can at least by amended so lawmakers will study the issue this summer. She is also seeking a legal opinion on whether the region's 1918 annexation into the city can be overturned because it was accomplished without a vote of the residents.
The bill became a rallying point for residents frustrated by the city administration.
Many people who live in the city south of the Hannover Street bridge claim they are ignored by the city and that their area has become the preferred site for garbage dumps, chemical factories and other unhealthful activities no one else wants.
"I don't think the city took this very seriously," McGuigan said. "But I can tell you the people down here have. This is far from a dead issue."