Plan proposed for city to retain 8 of 9 state districts Smaller constituencies suggested for Baltimore

August 13, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Baltimore's state senators and delegates would represent fewer citizens than their colleagues elsewhere in the state under a plan being advanced to help the city keep eight of its nine legislative districts.

State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, yesterday asked Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. for an opinion on whether the General Assembly may legally draw a redistricting plan that creates city districts that are smaller than those in other parts of Maryland.

"I think the people of Baltimore deserve more than a coldblooded, numbers-only approach to redistricting," said Mr. Pica, chairman of the city's Senate delegation and the Senate's Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting. He and other city officials believe the official head count by the U.S. Census Bureau missed a significant number of the city's residents.

Because of the loss in population since the last redistricting a decade ago, Baltimore stands to lose two legislative districts -- two senators and six delegates -- if every district is drawn to represent the ideal size of 101,733 citizens. But if city legislators are allowed to represent smaller constituencies, one of those two threatened districts could be preserved.

Mr. Pica drew support for his plan from a key player in the redistricting process, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. Mr. Miller is one of five members of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee. He said that the population of legislative districts may legally vary as much as 5 percent above or below the ideal size. The likely undercount in Baltimore, he said, justifies reducing the size of city districts by the full 5 percent, to approximately 96,000.

But Mr. Pica said that might not be a large enough variance to give the city eight districts without one or more of them spilling over into neighboring Baltimore County -- a move Baltimore County residents may resist. His letter to Mr. Curran is designed to determine if the state may legally go beyond the 5 percent variance to help the city, he said. "I think we were short-changed by the census process," he said. "We shoulder a burden in the state that no other subdivision can even appreciate."

In a response to an earlier inquiry from Senator Pica, the attorney general concluded yesterday that figures statistically adjusted from the Census Bureau's official "head-count" could be used in drawing new district boundaries, but only if they are used statewide, not just in Baltimore.

Mr. Curran also said that supporters would have to prove to the General Assembly that the revised figures were more accurate than the Census Bureau's official numbers.

But Mr. Curran noted that U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher rejected the adjusted figures, in part because he believed that their use would actually be less accurate than the original Census Bureau figures in some parts of the country, including Baltimore and Maryland. The so-called "Post-Enumeration Survey" determined that Baltimore's population was undercounted by about 36,000 people in the 1990 Census.

Going beyond the 5 percent variance in drawing Baltimore's districts, Mr. Miller said, "would require good sound legal doctrine. And I don't think an attorney general's opinion would give us a basis."

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