Baltimore needs three in U.S. House

Voting power: Maryland's new political maps should reflect character and needs of Baltimore.

January 14, 2002

THOUGH HE'S INCLINED to move a congressional district from Baltimore to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his political mapmakers now believe the city provides a better foundation for increasing Democratic strength in Maryland's congressional delegation.

Partisan motivation aside, we believe that shift in strategy would benefit the entire state as well as Democrats.

Of course, we believe that any truly democratic system must tie representation as closely to population as possible. But the process of putting an equal number of voters in each of the state's eight congressional districts is tricky, and inherently influenced by politics.

There is no "right" way to draw the lines separating the districts; decisions get made respecting historical boundaries and other factors. Subjective judgments -- from the demands of incumbent congressmen to the needs of an impoverished city -- must always be made in redistricting exercises. In this case, Maryland and Baltimore would both benefit from Mr. Glendening's plan.

Mr. Glendening wants to see the state's delegation broken down this way: six Democrats and two Republicans. That's more representative of the state's makeup than the current 4-4 split. His best hope for accomplishing that shift, his redistricting team now believes, flows from Democrat-laden Baltimore.

At least eight of every 10 registered voters in the city are Democrats. That base, now divided largely between two congressional districts, would support a third under the still-evolving Glendening plan. Enough solid Democratic city precincts could be transferred to the 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Republican Robert Ehrlich, to make it winnable by Democrats.

Within the inevitably pragmatic boundaries of this political process, Baltimore Democrats deserve grateful consideration from the Democratic Party. The city reliably delivers for Democratic candidates -- even as it has shrunk from about 950,000 residents at its peak in 1950 to 635,000 or so today. Its future therefore resides in new regional alignments in which the city and adjoining counties work together and share political representation. That breakthrough has occurred in Mr. Glendening's legislative district map and would be enhanced by shared congressional districts.

The word redistricting may induce a kind of narcolepsy in everyone outside insider politics. It's fraught with numbers -- measurements, for example, of Democratic or Republican "voter performance." Every player wants to influence how the numbers work. In the current process, Democratic Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin (3rd) and Elijah E. Cummings (7th) are called upon to make room for a third city-based district. Each of them already represents many suburban voters and would have to accept more. They ought to do so readily if not eagerly.

Both need to exercise restraint, flexibility and pragmatism -- on behalf of the city they represent. Democrats should want to fashion a Baltimore-oriented district in which another Democrat can win. In a state where voter registration figures favor Democrats -- and where Democrats are in control -- that objective cannot be a surprise.

The process should leave the Baltimore region with three congressional districts. Democrats can and should arrange this result. They have been the party of the cities and the beneficiaries of big Democratic majorities in cities. As managers of Maryland's well-being, moreover, Democrats cannot avoid the needs of its major city, which remains important economically and culturally.

It is possible (though probably not likely) that a Republican would win any of the newly formed districts. Depending on the candidate, we'd welcome that result as the fruit of democracy. Republicans should become more city sensitive -- and would, if required to represent large portions of Baltimore.

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