Cardin criticizes proposed congressional map

Republican Party also has complaints, but change is unlikely

March 01, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin told a panel of lawmakers last night that a proposed map to redraw the state's congressional districts was unfair to voters and urged the General Assembly to reject it.

"Look at that," he said, pointing to a picture of his new, Z-shaped territory that does not include many Baltimore precincts he would like to keep. "Is that really a district that you want to endorse?"

Cardin, a Democrat who represents the 3rd District, said the proposed map, which is backed by the governor, would dilute Baltimore's influence in Congress, unfairly carve up Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and unnecessarily split communities such as Columbia.

"The plan even divides the Inner Harbor in Baltimore," he said. "I didn't know you could do that."

Cardin, who has been especially peeved about losing traditionally Jewish institutions in Northwest Baltimore, noted that he has come up with an alternative that pleases his fellow Democratic congressmen.

In a written statement, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat, asked the legislators to consider Cardin's "very valid concerns."

Last night's hearing was the only chance for the public to respond to the proposed map, which will remain in place for 10 years if approved by the General Assembly.

Unforgiving numbers

Despite the complaints -- and lawmakers' high regard for Cardin, a former House speaker -- legislative leaders have said it is unlikely the new map will change more than the tiniest bit, since shifting a border in one spot could affect the population balance in nearly every other district, and surely invite complaints from other political factions.

Cardin said after the hearing that he understood how difficult it would be to undo the proposal.

State governments must adjust legislative and congressional districts every decade to account for population changes.

The latest U.S. Census numbers demand that each of Maryland's eight congressional districts contain the same number of residents -- 662,061, give or take a person or two.

This technical mandate is coupled with a political opportunity for the Democrats who control the process to create districts tailored to elect fellow Democrats.

In a state dominated 2-1 by Democratic voters, some politicians have complained for years that Maryland's congressional delegation, which includes four Republicans, does not represent the state's ideological bent.

The proposed map, drawn by a five-member committee appointed by the governor that included the House speaker, Senate president and the secretary of state, is designed to elect one or two more Democrats.

For those accustomed to looking at the existing congressional districts, the new plan has some strange-looking lines.

The 1st District on the Eastern Shore reaches into Baltimore County -- which would be split among five districts in the new plan, up from three.

The 6th District in Western Maryland stretches from Garrett County to the Cecil County border.

And the 7th, once concentrated in Baltimore, now spills into almost all of Howard County.

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele echoed some of Cardin's complaints at the hearing. "It's a political map, drawn not just to disenfranchise Republicans ... but to disenfranchise communities across this state," Steele said.

Ruppersberger or Ehrlich?

He added that some of the new lines seemed potentially harmful to Democrats as well.

A new 2nd District in the greater Baltimore area, politicians say, was carved out especially for Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, who has said he might run for the seat occupied by Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

But the district could also elect Ehrlich -- a possible enticement that some Democrats hope will keep him from entering the governor's race.

The 8th District of Rep. Constance A. Morella in Montgomery County was packed with additional Democratic voters in an effort to oust the long-serving Republican.

That change has riled residents of Montgomery Village, which is now in Morella's district but would be shared between two districts under the new map. Last night, legislators and residents from the town of 35,000 lobbied the panel to keep the area intact.

Similar complaints came from the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which asked that the proposed map be changed to retain in the same district precincts important to its constituency.

Two incumbents say they are satisfied with the new plan. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, who represents the 7th, said he "hated" an initial proposal, but can live with the latest version. It gives him nearly all of Howard County's land, and half of its residents.

And Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat whose 4th District takes in portions of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has said he, too, is satisfied.

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