Balto. Co. leaders fear loss of power in new legislature

Court map forces powerful members from delegation

Hoffman a `top leader' in capital

June 25, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Dundalk is reunited and Towson gets its own state Senate district, but some Baltimore County leaders worry that the Court of Appeals' new legislative map will give the county less influence in Annapolis.

The fallout continued yesterday from the release of the court's plan with an announcement by Democrats and Jewish leaders that they will not sue over the map and with the announcement by House Majority Leader Maggie I. McIntosh that she will seek re-election in the 43rd District, even though it may mean challenging a slate of incumbent Democrats.

In redrawing the district lines, the court extinguished political fires in Dundalk and on the Eastern Shore, but the major policy message it sent was in eliminating all crossover between Baltimore City and Baltimore County districts. The result is that the county will now have five districts entirely within its boundaries, up from three in the map Gov. Parris N. Glendening submitted in January.

But because the court eliminated the practice of allowing districts to cross from the city into the county, one fewer senator will represent constituents in Baltimore County. On the court's map, eight senators have a piece of the county; on the governor's map, nine did.

And not just any nine.

Under the old map, Baltimore County could claim as a part of its delegation city Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the powerful chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Although she lives in the city, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and others hailed her after the spring legislative session as the county's most valuable player for her ability to win funding for schools, roads and other county projects.

Not only has Hoffman lost the county portion of her district, but her political future is in doubt. She is now in the same district as Sen. Clarence W. Blount. He is expected to retire, but Hoffman might still have to face his heir-apparent, Del. Lisa A. Gladden, in what could be a difficult race.

Ruppersberger said yesterday that he thought the division of Dundalk into four districts in the governor's plan was wrong, and he is glad to see the community reunited. But losing Hoffman's presence in the delegation is a terrible blow, he said.

"Barbara Hoffman is one of the top leaders in Annapolis. She is chairman of the committee that generates the money, and she is responsible in working with us for Baltimore County receiving millions of dollars in money for schools and parks and roads and things of that nature," Ruppersberger said.

In the House of Delegates, the other members of Hoffman's 42nd District team were also standouts, said Thomas E. Dewberry, who resigned this spring from the House of Delegates and is now Maryland's chief administrative law judge. Dels. James W. Campbell, McIntosh and Samuel L. Rosenberg were all standouts, he said.

"Those were heavyweights that we could include as part of our delegation in Baltimore County," Dewberry said.

Ten years ago, in an effort to stave off the loss of political power in the city that would have accompanied its population loss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer drew districts that reached out from the city to encompass county voters.

That map survived a legal challenge, but the court ruled that the reshuffling was "perilously close" to violating the constitutional requirement that districts respect jurisdictional and geographical boundaries.

The districts caused an uproar in the county then, too, as residents feared they would be ignored by the city-based legislators to whose districts they had been added.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat who headed the county's senatorial delegation for the past decade, said he was a believer in the city-county districts from the start. Working with Ruppersberger, he pushed for all senators whose districts included a piece of Baltimore County to have full voting rights in the county delegation.

As a result, Baltimore County was able to present a large, unified front on issues important to it, he said.

"[It] is a tremendous loss for the political fortunes of Baltimore County in Annapolis," Collins said. "There must be some brain-numbing dye in those red robes or something for them to come to these kinds of very unwise government decisions."

Collins added that it makes no sense to him that the courts eliminated all crossover between the city and county but allowed the districts that cross between Baltimore County and Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

Not everyone is mourning the loss of city-county districts. Del. James F. Ports Jr., a Perry Hall Republican who is running for County Council, said the crossover districts meant city legislators helped the county only when it was in their interests.

But now that the city has only six senatorial districts instead of 10, legislators there will be forced to work with the county on all issues or consistently lose out to the populous Washington suburbs, Ports said.

"I think regionalism becomes stronger that way," he said. "Now they really need us."

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