Remap goals not reached, some say

Plan seen as doing little to help minorities, GOP

Biggest effect in city, Balto. Co.

July 01, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Two of the main goals of lawsuits against Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative redistricting map were to improve opportunities for minorities and Republicans, but neither have been helped much by the new plan drawn by Maryland's highest court, according to lawmakers and lawyers familiar with the new districts.

While the Court of Appeals reunited some communities - such as Dundalk, Towson and College Park - it split others, including portions of Anne Arundel County and the Jewish community of Northwest Baltimore.

Legislators and others involved with redistricting say the plan's biggest effect will be on Baltimore and Baltimore County, where it eliminated crossings between the two jurisdictions. "They turned the artificial boundary into an iron curtain," says House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who served on the governor's five-member redistricting commission and disagrees with the court's decision.

A week after the court's June 21 ruling, it appears that this new map will stand for state elections of 2002, 2006 and 2010. The most prominent groups to have considered legal appeals - including the Baltimore Jewish Council and the state Democratic Party - have rejected such action, and no one else has stepped forward.

The court's plan has set off a flurry of speculation, negotiations and politicking among potential candidates for the 188 General Assembly seats. The deadline to establish residency in the new districts is today and the filing deadline is July 8.

In the 14 lawsuits filed against the governor's plan, the most potentially far-reaching objection involved allegations that the map did not do enough to provide opportunities for minority candidates in Maryland. Few lawmakers believe the court did much to improve their chances.

"I don't think it made any difference in terms of African-American participation and opportunities," says Del. Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the Prince George's delegation and a candidate for county executive. "The court also didn't do anything to create an opportunity to elect a Latino, which I think would have been a good thing."

Specifically, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry argued that though his county is 70 percent black, Glendening's map left the jurisdiction's eight districts with four that are majority black.

Though the governor's proposal for a 44th District stretching south from West Baltimore to Dundalk included a majority of black residents, whites made up the majority of the voting-age population.

In the end, the court made few changes to Prince George's County. But in Baltimore, it redrew the 44th District to keep it entirely within the city and make it 75 percent black, which left Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV as the lone incumbent.

The court also changed an eastern Howard County Senate district that the governor had shaped to benefit C. Vernon Gray, a black Howard County councilman. The court included more of western Howard, adding Republican-leaning precincts that could give a small boost to Gray's GOP opponent, state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader.

"Under the governor's map, I think we had 10 African-American districts, and under the court's map, I think we can get 10 African-American districts and maybe 11," says Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the Baltimore delegation. "I think it's about the same."

Slight benefit to GOP

As for the objections of some Republicans that the governor went too far in drawing the map to benefit Democrats, officials from both parties say it appears the court made modest changes that may help the GOP.

The court rejected the most extreme step sought by the Republican Party - creating all single-member districts for the House of Delegates. That could have given GOP candidates better opportunities to capture seats in small conservative pockets of the state. Currently, three delegates are elected at-large in most districts.

"I'm not delusional about our success, but I think this map helps us makes small steps," says Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. "This map is more fair in terms of how it treats both parties."

Republicans think they can make headway in Baltimore County, including the new 42nd District in the Towson area. Del. Martha S. Klima, a Republican who represents much of that area in the House, is the only elected official in the running for that Senate seat.

Democrats concede Republicans were helped in some areas, but they say they don't expect large GOP gains in the fall election just because of the court's changes. "We lost a few Democratic-performing precincts in some areas, but we gained a few in some other areas," says David Paulson, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

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