Va. legal ruling might affect Md.

The Political Game

Decision: Opponents of the Glendening redistricting plan are excited at the prospects after a judge said the legislative map in the commonwealth was unconstitutional.

March 19, 2002|By David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig | David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

A DECISION by a circuit judge in Salem, Va., sent tremors through the Maryland State House last week.

Judge Richard C. Pattisall ruled that Virginia's legislative redistricting map -- used to elect the 100 members of the House of Delegates last year -- was unconstitutional. He agreed with Democratic arguments that African-Americans were unfairly concentrated in a small number of districts, diluting their influence.

Pattisall has ordered new delegate elections in the fall, tossing the commonwealth's political world into turmoil.

On the other side of the Potomac River, critics of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative redistricting plan are salivating. Some have used the same arguments against the Maryland map, and their claims have suddenly become -- at least in their minds -- more valid.

"In and around Prince George's County, the 2002 legislative redistricting plan `packs' African-Americans into only four legislative districts ... in order to protect the re-election prospects of white incumbents," reads one paragraph in a lawsuit filed by Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, a Democrat. State GOP chairman Michael Steele said the state party has joined Curry's claim.

Curry's is one of a half-dozen lawsuits that will get their first public airing the week after the General Assembly session ends April 8. Suddenly, the plaintiffs in those suits feel energized.

On the floor of the House of Delegates last week, Del. James F. Ports Jr., a Baltimore County Republican and the House minority whip, was surveying a newspaper account of the Virginia decision.

"Every paragraph I read, I get more and more excited," he said.

When Del. Joseph J. Minnick, a Baltimore County Democrat, mentioned the Virginia decision to a community group, he received a standing ovation.

But their exuberance should be kept in check, for now. Political dynamics in Virginia and Maryland are different, so the likelihood of a similar decision is uncertain.

Pattisall is a Democrat, ruling on a map prepared by Republicans. He approached the Republican-controlled legislature for reappointment last year, and was rejected. Some call his decision retribution.

In Maryland, redistricting cases will be heard by the seven-member Court of Appeals. Four justices are Glendening appointees, and Chief Judge Robert M. Bell was elevated by the governor.

This wasn't a good song for Frances Glendening

Say you're Prince George's County Councilwoman Dorothy F. Bailey, and you're planning a huge event that involves honoring former first lady Frances Hughes Glendening. What's the one song you forbid?

That's right: "Wind Beneath My Wings," the ballad her former husband dedicated to her in his 1995 inaugural speech, saying, "I will tell you without any hesitation, `I can fly higher than an eagle, because you are the wind beneath my wings.' " But because of a slip of the tongue, that was the song listed on the program at last weekend's campaign event in Greenbelt for former Glendening chief of staff Major F. Riddick Jr., which Frances Hughes Glendening attended. As it turned out, the singer had no intention of singing that song, and belted out "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" instead.

Bailey took the blame for the mix-up, explaining that she blurted out, "Wind Beneath My Wings, or something" when asked what she planned to sing.

Told of the song's significance to the former first couple, Bailey gasped, held her hand to her mouth, then sighed with relief. "Oh, God is good," she said.

BUILD wants to play role in gubernatorial election

Determined to play a role in this fall's gubernatorial election, the church-based community organization credited with helping to get out the vote for Glendening's winning two terms in office is getting back in gear.

About 150 leaders of BUILD -- Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development -- gathered Saturday at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church in North Baltimore to discuss issues they want candidates for governor to address. Those include equitable funding for schools, expanding `living wage' laws, restoring voting rights to former offenders and more money for drug treatment and for programs to help low-income families buy homes.

"We have the opportunity to take what currently is an issueless election and create an agenda that all candidates will have to address," said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, a co-chairman of BUILD and the pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church in East Baltimore.

Miles said BUILD needs to set the bar higher for candidates seeking that group's support this year, to avoid the type of problems that developed with the Baltimore mayoral race in 1999.

That year, all the candidates endorsed BUILD's agenda and votes were splintered among the three leading candidates, he said.

Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said BUILD is a political force to be reckoned with.

"They have grass-roots support and can turn out the vote," Crenson said. "They do a lot better in state politics than in city politics, quite frankly."

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