Proponents of redistricting plan speak out at Circuit Court hearing

Baltimore, black voters aided by map, they say

April 27, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Maryland's new legislative map might look odd, but there is a logic behind the squiggles and protrusions that protects voting strength in Baltimore and bolsters minority voices statewide, one of the redistricting plan's chief architects argued in court yesterday.

Secretary of State John T. Willis, a lawyer, historian and ally of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, defended the most notable idiosyncrasies in the governor's redistricting plan during the second day of a court hearing in Annapolis.

Willis said those who drew the map started with the important goals of ensuring that Baltimore's population loss since 1990 did not overly erode the city's black political representation and that the Washington suburbs gained districts that could elect nonwhite candidates.

In Baltimore, that meant maintaining and expanding the districts that cross into Baltimore County - a decade-old approach that courts found only marginally acceptable during the previous redistricting cycle.

In Prince George's County, it meant adding a new majority-black district along the District of Columbia border, a move Willis said sent ripples as far as Dundalk in eastern Baltimore County, which has been divided several ways and stands to lose its most senior state representatives.

Even though the 14 groups of plaintiffs who are suing to change the plan are unhappy, it's difficult to accommodate any of their desires, Willis said.

"You could draw a perfect plan for a particular area of the state," he said, but other portions of Maryland would be left unhappy.

Willis' arguments echoed earlier testimony by some General Assembly leaders, who said they found much to like in the governor's plan.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said residents in her District 42 have benefited because the district spans the city-county line in Northwest Baltimore and will continue to do so.

The city line is artificial, she said, and irrelevant to people's lives.

"These people go to the same synagogue, they shop in the same shopping centers, they go to the same movies," Hoffman said. "They lead the same lives."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that by sharing districts with the county, Baltimore will maintain at least four black senators. Based strictly on population, Baltimore should lose two districts, most likely those now represented by blacks.

"The loss of black legislators would be the loss of their voices in the committees where decisions [on education and other issues] are made," he said.

In a tense moment during the hearing, Sam Hirsch, an attorney for Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, questioned Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairman of the county's Senate delegation, over the senator's support of the governor's plan.

Curry is attempting to prove that Glendening should have created more majority black districts in Prince George's and that districts without a clear majority of black voters are unlikely to elect black candidates.

Currie called the governor's plan a good blueprint for gains by minorities. Black candidates can win even if black voters are not a majority, Currie said, if they become part of a party ticket and work hard.

Retired Judge Robert L. Karwacki, the special master hearing the case, has given little indication of his opinion of the governor's plan, drawn to reflect population changes measured by the 2000 Census.

A Dundalk native, Karwacki has seemed interested in a district that attaches two Dundalk precincts to an Anne Arundel County-based district across the Patapsco River; and in a lower Eastern Shore district that pits two incumbent Republican senators against each other.

Karwacki has 30 days to make his final recommendations to the Court of Appeals, which will decide to accept or alter them. Primaries for the state's 141 delegate seats and 47 Senate districts will be held Sept. 10.

The redistricting hearing is expected to conclude Monday.

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