How can Baltimore City and its neighbors begin to understand one another and work together on problems of mutual concern? A relatively easy step is available -- if politicians will sublimate their self-interest for the benefit of the entire region.
Neal Peirce's study, "Baltimore and Beyond," notes that without major state financial aid, Baltimore's decline will accelerate and "the ripples of decay will spread inexorably" to the suburbs. That is a prospect no political leader can countenance. Especially when there is a promising mechanism for changing the suburbs' outlook toward the city.
State legislators will soon be meeting to discuss re-drawing General Assembly boundary lines. Baltimore City could lose as many as two of its nine senators and six of its 27 delegates. Baltimore County could also lose representation.
That's not in the region's best interest. A smaller city delegation means a weaker voice in the State House. Baltimore desperately needs help from its neighbors. This can be achieved by drawing the new political districts so they cross the city-county line. That way, officials would represent folks in both jurisdictions.
And why not? The boundaries are artificial. There is no difference in neighborhoods on either side. Can you tell where Eastern Avenue or Dundalk Avenue leaves the city? Harford Road or Belair Road? Liberty Road or Reisterstown Road? Frederick Avenue? Ritchie Highway?
City-county neighborhoods are indistinguishable. Problems are the same. So why couldn't politicians represent both Violetville and Arbutus; Brooklyn Manor and Arundel Village; Woodlawn and Forest Park; Pikesville and Cheswolde; Parkville and Hamilton? Congressmen do it every day.
This would ease the city's redistricting problem, and the county's, too. It would give Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County legislators a vested interest in helping the city. Similarly, city legislators would have to work doggedly on behalf of their county constituents.
Cooperation and understanding would jump dramatically. Pressure for regional solutions would inevitably increase as legislators take a personal interest in city and county problems. The same approach works well in other parts of the state. It should work in the Baltimore area, too.
Are state legislators up to the task? Baltimore City Sen. John A. Pica heads the upper chamber's re-districting panel. He can VTC start the ball rolling by encouraging discussion of cross-boundary districts. It would solve a lot of political headaches -- and give constituents in the Baltimore region far better representation of their common concerns.