Incumbency no haven from map's challenges

City Council members face new tasks, territories

February 01, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Lois A. Garey will have to figure out where to buy campaign posters.

Paula Johnson Branch needs to sharpen her fund-raising skills.

And Melvin L. Stukes and Pamela V. Carter? They might need to find new homes altogether.

Being a Baltimore City Council member is not what it used to be.

Plans to reshape the council for the first time in decades are altering how candidates will contest for the office for years to come. Redistricting is causing considerable consternation across the city as council members and political activists digest the proposal Mayor Martin O'Malley introduced Monday.

The council has seven weeks, and two public hearings, before rendering its final opinion on the map in late March. But the political realities of what O'Malley's office called "the most dramatic political reorganization of the City Council since its present form was adopted in 1922" are setting in.

The plan, mandated by a referendum in November, reduces the size of the council from 18 members to 14, scrapping the existing layout of six three-member districts representing 108,000 residents each.

Instead, 14 single-member districts will be established, each representing smaller constituencies of about 46,500 people.

Single-member districts pose several issues:

Incumbent council members lose the benefit of pooling their campaign money by running on tickets of three.

Some council colleagues will have to run against their former running mates.

A few council members are facing the prospect of serving entirely different neighborhoods and constituencies.

"This is going to have a tremendous impact on city politics," said state Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat. "People who are active in their communities are going to see they have as much possibility of winning [a council seat] as the incumbents."

Council members have been scrambling to study reams of data explaining voting patterns of the proposed new districts. Some have hired pollsters and consultants to help them sort through their now smaller political worlds.

The coalition of union and community organizations behind the referendum continues to do its own analysis. The coalition - Community and Labor United for Baltimore - still contends that smaller districts will make challenges to incumbents easier and cheaper and will result in more accountability of office-holders.

"It will be much easier to identify the voting record of one council member rather than three," said Mitch Klein, an organizer of CLUB. "It will be every council member for themself."

In districts of only 46,500 people, money might not be as big a factor because candidates have the chance to actually meet all of the potential voters, political observers say. Past voting patterns indicate about 10,000 to 12,000 residents could actually turn out to vote.

Council members and O'Malley have argued that the existing districts were better in a few ways - they provided for fewer constituents per city representative and allowed council members to be less parochial when considering issues.

Regardless, single-member districts are in and four council members are out - with some more in jeopardy of losing their seats than others.

O'Malley's map drew the boundaries of 11 of the 14 new districts in areas where only one council member lives. He needs only 10 votes to get his map passed.

Contests of colleagues

Two council members reside in each of the three remaining districts, setting up the potential for colleagues to run against each other. Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi in the current 6th District has said he will not run for re-election.

Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. and Garey live in the new 2nd District in Northeastern Baltimore.

Carter and Bernard C. "Jack" Young live in the new 12th District just east of the city's center.

And Stukes and Edward L. Reisinger live in the new 10th District in the southern reaches of Baltimore.

"The mayor took care of 10 of his friends," D'Adamo said. "I don't think he did it to hurt me. I just wasn't part of that inner circle."

Garey, D'Adamo and council member John L. Cain, who is in the new 1st District in Southeastern Baltimore, ran as a ticket in the 1999 election. They pooled funds in a joint account to buy campaign literature plugging their ticket.

D'Adamo said he was the candidate who handled buying and hanging campaign signs, which Garey freely concedes. She said she will have to learn to do those tasks alone. What she will miss is tapping into an account funded by three people instead of just one.

"The costs could all be split three ways," she said. "I don't know if [winning in the new district] will be more difficult, but Nick is an extremely good campaigner."

While Cain might not have to contend with D'Adamo or Garey in his new district, he could face a new kind of challenge - a Republican candidate that many Democrats predict will be well financed.

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