Mayor Kurt Schmoke has directed the city to join a lawsuit seeking an adjustment in the 1990 census, charging that the federal government had political motives for not raising the population count.
Schmoke said yesterday that city lawyers are moving to have Baltimore join the lawsuit filed by New York City and 31 other cities, states, organizations and individuals. The suit, which seeks a court order to adjust the census count, is pending in federal court in New York.
"I had been reluctant to join the suit, thinking that it would be better to work with the Census Bureau," Schmoke said.
But Schmoke's position has changed in the face of U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher's decision earlier this month not to add 5.3 million people to the census count.
Mosbacher refused to adjust the census, even though he acknowledged that the census had missed about 2 percent of the U.S. population.
That decision cost Baltimore 36,000 people in its official census count. As a result, the city's official population will be 736,000 rather than the 772,000 it would have been had the count been adjusted.
The official census numbers are important because they are the basis for distributing many forms of federal aid. They also are the basis for divvying up political power.
A Morgan State University study has suggested that the difference in population could cost the city $39 million a year over the next decade. But federal officials have said the calculation ignores the complexities of many federal programs.
The census also provides the basis for drawing lines for political districts for government bodies from Congress to the City Council.
"I thought that Secretary Mosbacher's decision was political," Schmoke said. "The fact is that the adjustment would help big cities, which traditionally have not been a base of Republican support."
The census tended to miss blacks and Hispanics in urban areas, Schmoke added.
In making his decision, Mosbacher overruled his own census specialists, who said they wanted to add 5.3 million to the 248.7 million population head count.
Mosbacher, while acknowledging that the census was inaccurate, said he thought a statistical adjustment would cause even worse inaccuracies on the local level. Moreover, he said, the census has never been adjusted with statistical estimates in its 200-year history.
As a result, Schmoke said, the only hope for an adjustment lies in the courts.
"The city is going to have to force them to make the adjustment," Schmoke said. "They are not going to do it voluntarily."