Redistricting, budget concern

A Conversation With: Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin

April 24, 2001

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democratic Baltimore-area congressman, spoke recently in his Roland Park office with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion

Commentary page. The discussion focused on Baltimore City.

You worry about Baltimore in the redrawing of congressional district lines. Why?

Baltimore is probably more vulnerable than any other part of our state in regard to federal action. It is important that our congressional delegation be engaged on the issues that affect Baltimore. We have three congressional districts that are focused toward Baltimore -- two that have a large part of Baltimore City. I hope we can come out of redistricting with a similar type of an arrangement.

Are you afraid suburbia might take over?

You have a district that only includes the suburban regions [so] that they will not be as sensitive [to], or set as much priority on, issues that affect the city. It is important that you have a congressman who not only represents Baltimore City, but represents the suburban areas and can have a much more focused and balanced approach toward dealing with the problems of our city.

Among the Democrats, is it more important than anything else to get a majority in Congress in the next election?

Remember the party that's in the majority determines the agenda of Congress.

So many times ... my constituents will ask me, "Why haven't you brought up prescription drugs?" or "Why haven't you brought up the patients bill of rights?" or"Why haven't you brought up campaign financing reform?"

The Democrats can't bring that up. It's up to the Republicans to set the agenda in Congress. ... So it's very important for the issues that are important to the people in the 3rd District, that the Democrats to be in control in Congress.

I hope that after the next election [in 2002], we'll have a Democratic speaker and chairmen of the committees will be Democrats. Therefore, we can put more attention on education, on prescription medicines for Medicare and patients bill of rights and dealing with Social Security and Medicare and a more balanced approach on the budget.

Can the Baltimore area expect to be hurt in the Bush administration?

It's still a little too early to tell. But if the Bush budget were to become law -- and I certainly hope it will not, and we already see signs in the Senate that that's may not happen ... it would require large cuts in environmental programs, large cuts in housing programs, large cuts in health-care programs and in law enforcement programs and transportation. [It] would certainly have an impact on many of the programs that are important to Baltimore.

Let me just give you one example: Mayor [Martin] O'Malley has been very successful in getting federal funds for his COPS [Community Oriented Police Services] program, for getting more police officers on the streets. He's also been very successful in reaching out for drug treatment money. Both of those programs would be much at risk if the Bush budget were to become law. If fact, the Bush budget phases out the COPS program.

You've said Baltimore's biggest asset is its port. What can you do to keep it viable during an economic downturn?

First and foremost are the dredging issues. We need to make sure that we keep these programs on track, that they remain authorized and, in some cases, funded and actually moved forward to completion.

We have some controversy in our own delegation on this, but it's important that ... for Baltimore to have a competitive port, it has to have the dredging done so that the channels are conducive to the larger vessels that are now being used in international commerce.

We also can help the state in many of the contracts it's now reaching with the shippers. We can assist them in some of the infrastructure improvement with the use of federal transportation money. We can help them with some of the environmental concerns that have been raised about the port's use. We can help them develop a type of plan for the port facilities and related facilities so that we have a game plan to attract more industry and more port business to our region.

How is Mayor O'Malley doing?

Mayor O'Malley is doing a great job. He's really taking the time during his first year-plus in office to understand city government. His morning meetings, called CitiStat, are very impressive. I've had a chance to visit with him. He's really energized the Baltimore City work force. He's encouraged the people of Baltimore that we can do much better in education and in law enforcement. He's been realistic.

It's going to take some time to see the types of results that we all hope and want to see. So I give him very high marks for his management style and for the confidence that he has instilled in the people of Baltimore.

You think he's going to stick around as mayor or do you think he might go for higher office?

Some would say that there may not be any higher office. The mayor of Baltimore is certainly a very challenging position and one in which I hope that he will continue his skills.

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