Plan to move city elections gains support

Proposal would allow Baltimore's races to coincide with state's

`Latest and last offer'

Candidates elected in 2004 would have to run again in 2006

March 16, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

An influential Baltimore legislator wants to move the city's mayoral election to coincide with state races, a proposal that is gaining support in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the House majority leader, said she intends to amend the city's election bill that would set the primary and general elections for mayor and City Council for 2004.

Under McIntosh's proposal, beginning in 2006, candidates for city offices would run in the same years as candidates for state offices, which would give city candidates elected in 2004 a two-year term. Of the state's 24 major jurisdictions, Baltimore is the only one that does not hold elections the same year as state races.

"I have always, consistently, wanted the city election cycle to move in line with the state," McIntosh said. "I have made multiple suggestions. This is my latest and last offer."

She said her proposal was an effort to reach a compromise with city officials.

City officials oppose McIntosh's proposal, in part because it would force them to run for re-election twice in two years. Some City Council members argue that holding city and state elections together would create a long, burdensome list of city and state candidates. It also would hamper voter turnout, they say, because state elections fail to draw as many voters as presidential cycles, which is when city officials want their elections.

"The city doesn't want to go in line with the state," said Council President Sheila Dixon. "Right now we're in limbo, and I don't like that."

Mayor Martin O'Malley spokesman Tony White declined to comment on the specifics of McIntosh's proposal, but did say, "The mayor's first choice would be to renew the previous alignment of the elections.

"The mayor has instructed his staff to be in discussion with the city delegation in Annapolis and the council president's office to try and identify a workable solution," White said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, and City Councilman Robert W. Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, have been working the past four years to change the date of the city's municipal elections. They maintain doing so would increase voter turnout and save money. From 1923 until now, city, state and presidential elections each were held in different years.

Because the city held separate elections from the state and presidential races, taxpayers spent as much as $4 million extra in election costs for the additional primary and general election, Curran said.

But moving the city elections to coincide with the state could have an impact on O'Malley's decisions about his own political future.

O'Malley could run for governor in this year's election without surrendering his seat as mayor. But in 2006, with the city elections at the same time as the state, O'Malley would have to choose between running for mayor or governor or U.S. senator.

McIntosh maintains that her proposal has no political motives.

"The issue has nothing to do with his candidacy," McIntosh said. "My amendment is good government. It's good for Baltimore."

If McIntosh's proposal is the one that reaches the floor of the Senate, Miller said he would back it.

Miller has wanted city elections to coincide with state elections -- as all other major Maryland jurisdictions do -- during even years, two years after the presidential races. And with the city and state elections together, city officials would not have a free opportunity to run against state officials without having to give up their seats, which state officials despise.

Curran has made proposals backing Miller's position, but he could not gain the political support in the council to have city elections in the same year as state races. The council decided to push for city elections during presidential races and put it to the voters in a referendum on the 1999 ballot.

The voters agreed with the council, and the general election was moved to coincide with the presidential race, beginning in November 2004. The only problem was that the city needed the legislature to move the primary election from September 2003 to September 2004.

Curran said now that Baltimore voters have decided when they want their election, the legislature should support their wishes.

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