Final map for districts offered

Governor revises congressional lines

February 09, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

The governor's office released a final proposal for reshaping Maryland's eight congressional districts yesterday, unveiling a map that manipulates existing territories into voting blocs designed to send two more Democrats to Washington, while attempting to appease incumbents unhappy with an earlier draft.

Some portions of the new map - particularly around the Baltimore area - have been significantly redrawn from a proposal floated last month. Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' 7th District now covers a huge swath of Howard County. And Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, whose 3rd District initially suffered the most drastic rejiggering, has regained portions of the city and Baltimore County.

But, in other areas, the latest map retains elements that outraged some Republicans - and even left some Democrats scratching their heads.

The 6th District represented by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett now extends from the state's western border to Cecil County, for example, while Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest's 1st District runs from the Eastern Shore to White Marsh. Baltimore County is split among five districts, up from three currently.

The new map will be introduced as a bill in the General Assembly next week, and legislators can debate it and amend it as they would any other legislation. However, altering the lines is more easily said than done. Because each district must contain almost exactly the same population (662,061), even the slightest tweak to one border can reverberate statewide.

General Assembly leaders said yesterday that they didn't expect lawmakers to push for any major revisions - or perhaps any minor ones, either.

"It's unlikely, I think, because I'm led to believe [changes] will create some serious divisions within the greater Baltimore region," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. "Those divisions will prevent a majority coalition from forming."

That could be bad news for Cardin, who is disturbed by the map and likely to seek redress from lawmakers, said a source close to the congressman.

Although the newest drawing allows him to keep some precincts in Baltimore County and in the northern part of the city - and some key Jewish institutions (but not a delicatessen traditionally part of candidates' "bagel blitz" during campaigns), it gives him less of the city than he now represents.

Cardin complains that the city, and therefore the region, would lose influence if it were represented to such a large extent by one congressman - Cummings. He also objects to the way certain communities have been split up, such as Columbia, of which the new map would give him half.

Cardin favored alternative plans that created another Democratic district but did less damage to his and other existing territories.

The governor's spokesman, Mike Morrill, said the map's architects tried hard to preserve "communities of interest" where they could, and said Cardin's district is far less changed than in the earlier map.

General aspects of the initial proposal remain:

Baltimore County is the most fragmented jurisdiction, to be represented by five congressmen.

Anne Arundel is divided among four districts, as it is now, and Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties would each have three representatives.

Gilchrest's 1st District reaches into Baltimore County to grab 2nd District Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s house. If Ehrlich tries for re-election, he has said he would run in the 2nd, to avoid challenging a fellow Republican. The latest changes to the 2nd District restore a few precincts that Ehrlich currently represents.

Ehrlich's spokesman, Paul E. Shurick, said, "There is no doubt in my mind that in the old new district, or the new new district, the congressman would be successful."

Western Maryland's 6th District runs 170 miles along the Pennsylvania border and takes in the northern tiers of Baltimore and Harford counties.

The map's Baltimore-centered contortions are owed largely to two factors. First, because the city lost so many people in the past decade, Cummings' 7th District had to find many more inhabitants outside the city.

At the same time, to add Democrats to the state's congressional delegation - now split between the parties - the map's architects sculpted a new 2nd District meant to appeal to Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

But it's also meant to be attractive to Ehrlich, as an inducement to keep him out of the governor's race.

Cummings said he "hated" the initial map. The newest version gives him back his core of voters in the city and puts him into areas of Howard County where he says he feels comfortable, rather than into unknown ground in Anne Arundel County. It also gives him slightly higher numbers of African-American voters.

"The governor laid down a principle that he wanted to create a [redrawn 2nd District] where another Democrat could win in this area. I've spent at least 200 hours looking at this map and trying to figure out another way to get there. While I may not like the map ... I accept it," Cummings said.

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