Redistricting soft at center

The Political Game

Task: Determining Maryland's new political districts has been relatively painless around the edges of the state, but more difficult in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

November 06, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

FROM THE Forrest Gump school of food analogies ("Life is like a box of chocolates," remember?) comes this morsel: Legislative redistricting is like a bowl of Jell-O in the refrigerator.

The edges harden first, while the middle remains squishy for a while.

The political folks drawing the map for 47 state Senate districts and the House districts within them are nearing the end of their once-a-decade task. The job was fairly easy at the edges; there won't be much outcry from Western Maryland or the Eastern Shore.

But a few squishy spots remain -- primarily in Baltimore and Baltimore County -- and that's where things will get exciting.

Baltimore lost enough population over the past two decades to justify two fewer districts than the eight city-centered districts it now has. (Two other districts include parts of the city, but have many more voters in Baltimore County.)

As part of an effort to preserve the city's dwindling influence, Baltimore will probably lose only one state senator (and the district's three accompanying delegates) when maps are released this year. Many versions of redistricting plans have Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV's 44th District disappearing.

But preserving seats for Baltimore could come at Baltimore County's expense. While the county added population during the last decade, it could find itself with less legislative influence on the east side.

To protect the political career of a city incumbent, the 47th District of Sen. George W. Della Jr. could be extended into the eastern Baltimore County neighborhood of Dundalk and surrounding areas -- essentially eliminating the 7th District represented by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a 34-year veteran. City and county neighborhoods in the district would be linked only by the Key Bridge.

"That's a rumor at this point," Stone said yesterday. "I have not seen a plan that does that."

But talk is loud enough to send Stone scrambling. He has asked staffers to draw an alternative plan that keeps both his and Della's districts intact. After offering his thoughts to Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Stone said Miller "asked me to do a statewide plan" that incorporated his ideas for the east side.

"I don't believe the county should lose a senator," Stone said, adding that Dundalk residents "would be outraged" to be included in a city district.

Del. Joseph J. Minnick, the leader of the Baltimore County House delegation who is from the 7th District, said a redistricting plan that alienates politically active Dundalk could have repercussions in the governor's race.

"We told [Lt. Gov.] Kathleen [Kennedy Townsend] if that plan goes into effect, you can kiss Dundalk goodbye," Minnick said. "We won't have any control over what the people say."

Talk that Stone might be retiring from the legislature has fueled speculation that his home base could become expendable. But the senator said he'd like to stay in office. "If I have a district, I'm running again," Stone said.

Any districts removed from Baltimore and Baltimore County would almost certainly be transferred to voter-rich Prince George's and Montgomery counties, other areas of the state where plans are slightly squishy. State political leaders are under pressure to create more districts with African-American majorities, and one would go to Prince George's.

A redistricting advisory committee named by Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to release its proposal in about a month. By then, the Jell-O will have fully hardened: The governor is likely to accept most if not all of the committee's recommendations. And it's doubtful the General Assembly will do much to change his plan.

Schaefer is `mentor,' `tormentor' to O'Malley

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has referred to state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former governor and city mayor, as "my mentor, and sometimes my tormentor."

Schaefer fulfilled that description to the letter last week when he assessed O'Malley's prospects as a possible candidate for governor now that Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has declined to take on Townsend.

Schaefer the mentor saw O'Malley's chances as weakened by Duncan's exit. The mayor "would have liked two or three people" in a primary, Schaefer said. "Then he could slip in."

Schaefer the tormentor couldn't help but take shots at the raw ambition that allows the 38-year-old mayor to ponder moving on after two years in office.

"What they should do is have candidates who are not looking for the next job," Schaefer said. He also criticized O'Malley's visible role among mayors who after Sept. 11 made a plea for tourists to return to their cities. "He never saw a tourist in his life," Schaefer said.

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