City lawmaker asks if adjusted figures for census may be used in redistricting

July 19, 1991|By James Bock

Striving to conserve Baltimore's political clout, a city legislator has asked the Maryland attorney general whether unofficial census figures may be used in redrawing General Assembly districts.

The adjusted numbers would raise Baltimore's population from 736,014, as counted in the 1990 census, to 772,000, as estimated in a special post-census survey.

"The Census Bureau has acknowledged there are more people in areas like the city than were counted in the census. It's more than guesswork; they've admitted it," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., author of the letter delivered yesterday to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Mr. Pica, a Baltimore Democrat, asked Mr. Curran in the letter whether the legislature was "required to use census figures for Baltimore City if it can be demonstrated that more reliable data exists to justify a higher population figure."

U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher Sr. rejected the adjusted figures earlier this week and retained the original census counts -- "--ing the hopes of Baltimore City to maintain eight Senate seats in the legislature," Mr. Pica wrote.

The Census Bureau produced the adjusted figures to try to make up foran admitted undercount of blacks and other minorities.

The bureau estimated that Baltimore's population was undercounted by 4.7 percent in 1990, well above the national average of a 2.1 percent undercount. The city is 59.2 percent black.

In setting aside the adjustment, Mr. Mosbacher overruled the Census Bureau director.

The secretary acknowledged that the adjusted figures were better than the census count at the national level, but said that they were often less accurate at the local level.

He said that the "census appears more accurate" than the adjusted figures for about half the nation's largest cities, including Baltimore.

Mr. Pica, chairman of the Senate Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting, said that his goal was to retain eight city senators when the General Assembly is redistricted next year. The city now has nine senators.

The senator said that Baltimore deserves special consideration because it is an economic and cultural hub, and because it cares for an inordinate share of the state's poor.

"The people of Baltimore can't afford a cold-blooded, numbers-only approach to redistricting," he said. "We want an adequate share of power in Annapolis politics."

Jack Schwartz, the attorney general's chief counsel for opinions and advice, said Mr. Pica's letter "raises a number of significant legal issues that we'll have to take a look at."

Mr. Schwartz said that the attorney general "would certainly want to provide a timely response."

A five-member redistricting commission has been holding public hearings around the state, including one last night in Baltimore.

The state constitution calls for legislative redistricting "following each decennial census," but it does not explicitly call for using census population figures.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, a commission member, said he doubted that the General Assembly could legally use the unofficial figures, but added that the legislature had a moral obligation to consider the apparent undercount in Baltimore.

Michel A. Lettre, staff chief for the redistricting commission, said Mr. Pica's letter "implies we would use one set of figures for the city and another set for the state. You can't mix the two. Whatever happens, it has to be done in a way that treats everyone in a similar and fair way."

Mr. Lettre said that the Census Bureau has produced a complete set of adjusted figures but it has only released some of them.

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