Palatable plan on second look

The Political Game

Redistricting: African-American lawmakers see opportunity for gains in the governor's proposal.

January 15, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

AFRICAN-AMERICAN political leaders didn't get all that they wanted in the governor's redistricting plan, but they appear to have fared better than they initially thought and now might drop their threats of a lawsuit.

After a thorough look at Gov. Parris N. Glendening's map, members of the General Assembly's Legislative Black Caucus say they believe the plan will yield at least four new African-American legislators and perhaps as many as eight.

Some black political leaders were hoping for a gain of 12 African-Americans in the Assembly, which would bring the total to 50. But several now say they believe the governor's proposal offers reasonable opportunities for black candidates.

"This is what this plan provides, opportunity," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "I think we did pretty well."

If this year's election plays out as Rawlings and others anticipate, African-Americans would gain seats in Prince George's, Howard, Somerset and Frederick counties.

When the governor's plan was introduced in the legislature Wednesday, some black lawmakers immediately spoke of lawsuits, in particular because of concern that any loss of black lawmakers in Baltimore's 44th District might lead to a decrease in minority representation statewide.

Del. Talmadge Branch, chairman of the black caucus, and Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a lawyer from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is reviewing the governor's map to ensure that it conforms to federal voting laws and protects African-American representation statewide.

But after reviewing the numbers, they said they are pleased overall with Glendening's plan and don't expect to find a basis to file suit. Not only do they expect the number of African-American lawmakers to increase, but they also expect a minimal loss of seats held by blacks in Baltimore, where the state experienced the largest population decline.

There are 38 African-Americans -- nine senators and 29 delegates -- in the 188-member General Assembly.

Over the past decade, Maryland's black population grew by more than 287,000, accounting for more than half of the state's population increase of 515,000. With that growth -- largely in Prince George's County, which had an increase of 132,759 in its black population -- African-American political leaders began pushing for greater representation in Annapolis.

Here is where lawmakers believe African-Americans are likely to win seats in the legislature:

In Prince George's County, a new majority-black 47th District creates a Senate seat and three delegate seats for a wide-open race in the southeast area of the county, close to Washington. And a new single-member district, 23-B, has been designed for black community activist Marvin Holmes in Bowie, should he pursue office as expected.

In Howard County, the governor drew lines for a 13th District Senate seat that has become known as the "C. Vernon Gray seat." Gray, who is black, plans to announce his candidacy in the spring. He is a 20-year county councilman and a Morgan State University political science professor.

Gray would have to defeat Republican Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, who was appointed last week to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Martin G. Madden. While the new district does not have an African-American majority -- the black population stands at just over 24 percent -- it has been Gray's base in the County Council for two decades.

Crisfield Police Chief Ernest J. Leatherbury, a black retired state police trooper, said he is considering a run for a new single-member delegate seat in District 37-A that was created for him in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore. Leatherbury narrowly lost a race for delegate four years ago. The new single-member district is expected to secure a victory for him, if he decides to run again.

An eighth seat has been crafted in largely Republican Frederick County's new District 3-A, which is made up mostly of the city of Frederick.

Black lawmakers said they are not counting on gains in Montgomery County districts where African-Americans are considering runs because there is no district in that county with a majority black population.

"What this map clearly does is open the door in the legislature to reflect the diversity of Maryland," said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for the governor. "When you look at the whole picture, this is a plan that accomplishes that."

One key question is what will happen in Baltimore's 44th District, where Sens. Clarence M. Mitchell IV and George W. Della Jr. would face each other. Mitchell is black and Della is white. In addition to the senators, five incumbent delegates -- three black and two white -- would compete for three seats.

"The wildcard in this whole thing is the 44th District," Branch said.

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