Redrawn map confounds voters

Pace, scope of redistricting challenges city politicking

August 20, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

At Charles Village's annual festival in early June, a team of incumbent state legislators showed up for an early round of election-year politicking.

By the time the North Baltimore community held one of its monthly summer block parties last month, a whole new crew of General Assembly wannabes showed up seeking support.

That's because the redistricting map issued June 21 by the Court of Appeals changed the legislative boundaries, moving parts of the neighborhood out of the old 42nd District and putting them in the 43rd. One of the four 42nd incumbents is running from the 43rd, but the other three are running elsewhere.

"There's certainly a sense of loss," said John Spurrier, head of the Charles Village Civic Association. "That's something people are disappointed about.

"We'd come to rely upon the representatives of the 42nd," he added. "We'll just have to become familiar with some new people."

Charles Village is not alone. As candidates troll for votes for the Sept. 10 primary in what is often unfamiliar territory, neighborhoods, institutions and political groups across the city also are having to adjust to the new realities of reapportionment.

With the court having eliminated combined city-Baltimore County districts, Baltimore is down from eight districts totally or mostly in the city -- plus parts of two that were mostly in the county -- to just six.

City precincts of one former city-county district, the 42nd, have been split among the 40th, 41st and 43rd. Those of another, the 47th, are now mostly in the 44th or 46th.

Downtown, which used to be part of the 44th, is now in the 46th, along with most of the city's waterfront neighborhoods. The Johns Hopkins medical complex in East Baltimore, which used to be in the 45th, is now in the 44th, along with Sandtown-Winchester on the west side and Pigtown in the southwest. And much of the eastern edge of the city, which used to be in the 46th, is now in the 45th.

Joyce Leviton, head of the city's community planning division, which overlaid the new legislative districts on a map of city neighborhoods, said the changes could be positive.

"When you have these new districts, it forms new neighborhood coalitions," she said. "Now there is a waterfront district; East and West Baltimore are in the same district. I think stronger coalitions strengthen neighborhoods because of the community of interest."

To be sure, changes in legislative boundaries occur after every release of census data. What makes this year's changes so bewildering to so many is not just their scope, but the pace at which they have been put into effect.

The latter is a result in part of the successful court challenge to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's original redistricting plan and the timing of the statewide elections -- a little more than a year after the census data were released. In the 1990s, the first state election wasn't held until more than three years after the release of census figures, giving those affected more time to adjust.

"I'm still confused as to who all these numbers are," said Jeff Sattler, executive director of Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville Inc.

Sattler's group, which comprises six communities, had been partly in the 43rd and partly in the 46th. Now it's split between the 43rd and 45th.

"Call it the 30th for all I care, as long as I get the right people," he said.

In East Baltimore, the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence, president of the Jonestown Planning Council, wasn't sure where on the legislative map his organization fell until he was questioned about redistricting last week. The council, which encompasses Pleasant View Gardens and the old Flag House Courts housing complex, was in the 44th; it is now partly in the 44th, where two west-side Democrats are vying for election, and partly in the 46th, where a South Baltimore stalwart is running unopposed.

"We have two senators, one in West Baltimore and one in South Baltimore, responsible for our neighborhood in East Baltimore," Lawrence observed.

A Hopkins spokeswoman had little to say about the change that moved the medical complex out of the 45th District, made up of east-side neighborhoods, and into the 44th -- which also includes the University of Maryland Medical Center on the west side.

"As a nonprofit organization, we cannot participate in the political process," spokeswoman Terry Todesco said in a statement. "We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly and the new governor."

Also moved to the 44th was the site of the proposed east-side biotech park, which has been supported at numerous community forums by key members of the 45th delegation.

Joseph Haskins Jr., a bank executive who heads the board that will oversee the development of the park, said he has contacted some candidates in the 44th and will contact more when the primary is over.

"We don't see it as an issue for us," Haskins said of the change. "I believe that this project, while located in East Baltimore, has potential impact that is not only city- and statewide, but national."

Not everyone is as sanguine.

"I don't like any changes," said Bettie Summers, head of the Saint Agnes Neighborhood Association in southwest, late of the 47th, now of the 44th. But she said she hasn't paid much attention so far. "The end of August, I'll look at it."

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