Power of city will be tested in Senate

Hoffman, Blount gone from critical positions

September 12, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore lawmakers look toward the next General Assembly session, they do so facing the stark reality that the city will have a smaller delegation with less political influence and fewer positions of power.

This week's defeat of Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman means the city no longer holds a chairmanship in the Senate -- a powerful tool in pushing bills through the legislature.

Hoffman's loss to Del. Lisa A. Gladden comes as Sen. Clarence W. Blount, the Senate majority leader and longest-serving African-American in the Assembly, is retiring. Thomas L. Bromwell, the Finance Committee chairman who represented the city and Baltimore County, gave up his Senate seat this year.

In Annapolis, Baltimore lawmakers will have to figure out how they can do more for the city despite their politically weaker position.

"It's going to really require among the city delegation the ability to craft regional agreements and regional strategies in order to bring the bacon back home," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a former city councilman and congressman.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said city legislators and Mayor Martin O'Malley will have to come together and work hard to persuade other jurisdictions to support their agenda. He said one plus is that he and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. remain committed to helping the city.

"Baltimore City is going to continue to receive the lion's share of the funds that flow from Annapolis because of the need," Miller said.

But he said that the city is not likely to retain the Budget and Taxation Committee chairmanship after Hoffman leaves office. He said the next chairman will be chosen, in part, based on Senate seniority.

Mfume and other political observers say much of the responsibility in achieving the city's goals now rests on the shoulders of Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a key backer of Gladden in her defeat of Hoffman.

Rawlings also was a key supporter of Del. Verna L. Jones in her primary election victory over incumbent Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV. Those political victories follow Rawlings' successful backing of O'Malley's 1999 mayoral bid.

"After Irv Kovens, after William Donald Schaefer and after Clarence Blount, Pete Rawlings now has emerged as the real godfather of Baltimore politics," Mfume said.

"It means Pete almost solely becomes the most pivotal player when it comes to [city issues in] Annapolis. It would behoove people to listen to Pete and work with Pete."

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city Senate delegation, said Rawlings' leadership will play a critical role in accomplishing the city's agenda. McFadden, who along with some other city senators has at times been at odds with Rawlings, said Baltimore lawmakers must set aside their differences.

"There is no time for tension now," McFadden said. "We have to work together."

Now, McFadden agrees that Rawlings will be a key player in protecting the city's interests in Annapolis.

"Pete is certainly a very strong, intelligent, hard-working person in the legislature," McFadden said. "What can I say? The man has done an outstanding job. He certainly is a major asset to the city delegation, and even more so now."

In addition to Rawlings, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh holds an important position as House majority leader. She won a commanding victory over three incumbents in Northeast Baltimore's 43rd District -- a district she was moved into when the legislative map was redrawn this year.

And Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, who appears to have narrowly won re-election in Northwest Baltimore's 41st District, holds a leadership post as a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee. Del. Hattie N. Harrison, chairman of the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, also is returning.

But it is in the Senate where the city's leadership and seniority have disappeared.

Rawlings, McFadden and others said they believe the mix of newcomers and veterans in the Senate should produce a solid team. "There's great talent," Rawlings said.

But he added, "In terms of looking after the city's interest, it certainly is not going to be the same with Barbara not sitting there."

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