Rawlings pledges suit over districts

Meeting to discuss action if plan drops majority-black area

November 28, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A prominent Baltimore legislator is threatening to sue the state if Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative redistricting plan eliminates an African American-majority district in the city.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has called for a meeting Saturday of black city delegates and the Baltimore City Council to discuss legal options if a much-discussed redistricting proposal becomes reality. An attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal and Educational Defense Fund will also attend.

"If we lose an African-American district in Baltimore City, I will be leading the charge, along with my colleagues, and with the help of the NAACP legal defense fund, to bring suit against the state," Rawlings said yesterday.

The meeting's topic and timing reflect heightened tension in Annapolis as the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries nears completion. Many careers hang in the balance.

Baltimore's population decline should translate into the loss of at least one state Senate district and its accompanying delegates. The city now contains five districts in their entirety; five others include some city neighborhoods and extend into Baltimore County.

The Baltimore City House delegation has endorsed a plan that would preserve the districts of six African-American senators and force two white senators, George W. Della Jr. and Perry Sfikas, to run against each other. But since then, talk has persisted that Glendening would prefer to eliminate the district of Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who is black.

By law, the governor must submit a bill in January that creates districts for all 188 General Assembly members. Because of competing interests and the complexity of the map, the governor's bill is expected to become law without significant changes.

Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said final redistricting decisions have not been made. A five-member advisory committee has not finished its work, he said.

"People are staking out territory right now," Morrill said. "That's part of the process you go through in redistricting."

While Glendening is sensitive to issues of minority representation, Morrill said, "it's one of the many different things that go into the calculation to make sure that Marylanders are fairly represented."

Rawlings said that he and Del. Talmadge Branch, the Baltimore Democrat who heads the legislative black caucus, met with Glendening two weeks ago "and reminded him he won two elections with strong African-American support in Baltimore City."

"He said he would take it into consideration," Branch said yesterday. "I haven't seen any maps at this point that actually eliminate anybody. We may be talking about something that may not even happen."

Despite speculation that Glendening might create a majority-black district in Prince George's County, Branch said he would feel compelled to join a legal challenge. "The sentiment in the city is that people who left the city are not African-Americans, so why are we losing an African-American district?" he said.

Civil rights activists have made good on similar threats in the past. A lawsuit forced the creation of a single-member House district on the Eastern Shore, which led to the election of Del. Rudolph C. Cane, who is black.

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