A last-minute compromise on the boundaries of the 1st District has enabled House and Senate leaders to finally reach agreement on a congressional redistricting plan after being stalemated for weeks.
The Senate approved the redistricting plan late last night, and the House of Delegates was expected to do so when it returned to Annapolis today.
If Gov. William Donald Schaefer signs the legislation, as
his aides indicated he might as early as today, Maryland congressional politics won't be the same.
Some members of the House of Delegates couldn't hold back laughter as they heard the compromises needed to redraw the boundaries of Maryland's eight congressional districts.
"South Baltimore has always wanted to be on the Eastern Shore," quipped Del. Paul E. Weisengoff, D-City.
It's no joke.
Some 14,000 residents of the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay areas of South Baltimore are joined with the Eastern Shore and part of Anne Arundel County in a new 1st District that straddles Chesapeake Bay and combines city crab houses with Crisfield crab boats.
Legislative mapmakers left the Baltimore area relatively unscathed.
But they chopped up Anne Arundel County, threw Southern Maryland into a new district and created a predominantly black district in Prince George's County that is likely to elect Maryland's second black representative.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, who represents Baltimore, is the other.
Mfume and his Baltimore-area colleagues, Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, suffered little in the mapmaking and will be strong favorites for re-election next year, when the new districts become effective.
But the futures of Reps. Tom McMillen, D-4th, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, are in doubt because they're thrown together in the new 1st District. And Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, may face a fight because he will be running in a drastically changed district that includes a new area for him, Southern Maryland.
Reps. Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, who represents Western Maryland, and Constance A. Morella, R-8th, who is in Montgomery County, emerged with no major changes to their districts.
Senate approval of the plan, on a 36-10 vote, ended hours of bitter criticism and delaying tactics by Anne Arundel's senators. The plan divides the county into four congressional districts, an action that Senate and House leaders found necessary to reach a final accord.
Anne Arundel lawmakers held off a final vote on the plan for more than two hours with an attempt to filibuster the redistricting bill on the Senate floor.
"I'm not prepared to put up with any member saying this is the Senate's proudest moment," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel. "As far as I'm concerned, this is the Senate's saddest moment."
But the Anne Arundel protest was doomed from the start because the plan satisfied a majority of the Senate. It also satisfied the Maryland Republican Party, which just a couple of months ago was fearing the worst.
"Looks like a fine plan," said Kevin Igoe, executive director of the GOP, which had threatened to sue if the legislature adopted a plan Republicans didn't like.
The plan preserves the bases of Bentley and Morella and gives Gilchrest a strong Eastern Shore base from which to run in the new 1st District, presumably against McMillen, whose Crofton home is in the Anne Arundel part of the district.
Republicans also see an opportunity to take on Hoyer, whose district next year will be 60 percent different from what it is now.
That any Republicans could be smiling might seem remarkable considering that the legislature is mostly Democratic. But the pull of party affiliation wasn't as compelling as the regional and personal ties held by two of the redistricting powers: House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and Schaefer.
Schaefer's friendship with Bentley and Mitchell's desire to keep his native Eastern Shore intact worked in her favor and in Gilchrest's. It was enough to overcome the efforts of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and state Democratic Party chairman Nathan Landow to help McMillen.
Other determinants were the bipartisan agreement to create a minority district in Prince George's County and the Democratic desire to protect the Prince George's incumbent, Hoyer, by shifting him eastward and southward into Southern Maryland. To meet these goals, the mapmakers decided the path of least political resistance was through McMillen's Anne Arundel-based district.
Bentley also was helped by McMillen's fellow Maryland Democrats in Congress, who teamed up against him in supporting plans they liked.
The bitterness engendered by the redistricting fight has damaged the congressional delegation's collegiality. McMillen has been outraged by what he sees as his Democratic colleagues' willingness to help Republicans Bentley and Gilchrest at his expense.
"It certainly does protect three Republican incumbents," said McMillen's top aide, Jerry Grant. "Everybody seems to get what they want except Anne Arundel."