O'Malley to deliver redistrict proposal

City Council will shrink from 18 to 14 members

`Breaks my heart,' mayor says

January 27, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley will unveil today his plan to redraw the city's political boundary lines - a plan that is likely to touch off furious debate as the council is forced to shrink by four members.

After nearly three months of closely guarded work that O'Malley characterized as "heartbreaking," the mayor will present his draft for reshaping the council at a meeting of the officials whose positions will be jeopardized by a realignment of election districts.

"It breaks my heart to have to submit lines that will pit my longtime colleagues against each other," said O'Malley, a council member from 1991 to 1999. "I am less for [redistricting] now than I was before."

Despite the opposition of O'Malley and council members, voters approved a referendum in November that reduces the council by four seats and changes representation from six, three-member districts to 14, single-member districts. The council president will continue to be a citywide elected post.

Last month, O'Malley said that he would remap council districts on his own and has kept the details of his map secret.

He developed the plan with the help of his chief operating officer, Michael Enright, and the city's deputy mayor for legislative affairs, Jeanne D. Hitchcock.

For the past two weeks, O'Malley has met privately with each council member but did not reveal details of his map, which represents the first redistricting in more than 10 years.

"I think [the mayor] wants the council members to show their hands before he shows his hand," Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said.

Once the council receives O'Malley's plan, it will have 60 days to amend it or pass a different plan. If the council has taken no action after 60 days, city officials said, O'Malley's plan will take effect and that map would be used for council elections in September.

Activists excluded

The successful referendum, called Question P, was led by a coalition of community activists and labor unions called Community and Labor United for Baltimore. That group is upset that O'Malley did not include them in drafting the map.

"We have not received any invitation to a process which was formally closed to public scrutiny when the mayor made it his decision to dismiss the idea of a [redistricting] commission," CLUB Chairwoman Margaret Spicer said in a statement.

When O'Malley decided to work on the plan privately, he indicated the public could send him suggestions. Once the council has O'Malley's plan, it will hold public forums during which city leaders expect rancorous debate involving political and neighborhood organizations.

"It's a map that everyone is going to be disappointed with," O'Malley said. "All members of the council will be disappointed with the map, some more than others if they have to run against each other" in the next election.

Each of the 14 districts will represent about 46,500 residents, compared with about 108,000 under the current six-district system.

Each council member now shares a district with two other members. If the redistricting plan is approved, council members who live near each other might end up in the same new district, forcing them to compete for one seat. One such battle likely will arise between Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. and Councilwoman Lois A. Garey, who live near each other in the northeastern portion of the 1st District, which encompasses the city's waterfront neighborhoods and East Baltimore.

"I'm not moving," Garey said. "I plan to run for re-election."

The redistricting also has prompted at least one delegation of council members to form a loose alliance. In the 3rd District, council members Harris, Robert W. Curran and Lisa Joi Stancil have drawn several maps that put them in separate districts contained mainly within their existing electoral base in Northeast Baltimore.

"Everybody has put together a map that is favorable to them," said Harris, whose proposal would add Homeland from the neighboring 5th District to his district.

Council President Sheila Dixon said she hopes O'Malley's districts will protect incumbent council members. More importantly, she said, she wants to ensure that the districts are diverse, racially and economically.

"I want to see balanced populations, and I don't want us to divide up communities," Dixon said.

`Sold a bill of goods'

Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi of the 6th District in Southwest Baltimore said he is convinced redistricting will have the opposite effect.

"I think we've been sold a bill of goods with these 14 single-member districts," Abayomi said. "I am curious to see how white our city government becomes."

At least in the case of the 6th District, the other two council members will not have to worry about competition from the two-term councilman. Abayomi said he will not seek re-election so he can spend more time with his family.

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