Shift in city primary gets delegates' nod

March '04 election date likely to get full House OK

March 01, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Hoping to avoid a 14-month lame-duck city government, Baltimore's House delegation approved a proposal yesterday to move the city's primary election to March 2004.

The 10-4 decision all but assures that the city's next primary will be held with the presidential primary on Super Tuesday next year. But future municipal elections in Baltimore could change because of continued political wrangling in Annapolis by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Although he has said he would likely support having the city's municipal elections at the same time as next year's presidential races, Miller said he eventually wants the mayoral contest to coincide with state elections, which are held on even-numbered years opposite presidential races.

Miller argues that holding city elections at a different time than state elections gives Baltimore politicians a "free shot" at statewide offices without having to risk their local seats. All other major jurisdictions in Maryland hold their elections in the same year as state races.

"We need a more permanent solution, one that brings the city in line with the state," Miller said in a recent interview.

Baltimore's primary election date needs to be changed because city voters have approved moving the city's next general election to November 2004. But the next primary election is scheduled this September - creating the possibility of a 14-month lame-duck period for Mayor Martin O'Malley should he be defeated in the primary. Only the General Assembly is permitted to change the dates of primary elections.

Miller said he has talked to the mayor about moving the state's presidential primary from Super Tuesday in March to February - a move seen by some as a tactic to pressure city officials into moving the mayoral races to coincide with the state's.

Although just 37 days remain in the General Assembly session, Miller has not introduced a measure to make a change that would affect the whole state.

Even so, some say Miller has spoken to members of Maryland's congressional delegation about changing the presidential primary to bring more attention to the state. As a small state voting on Super Tuesday, Maryland receives far less news media attention than other states.

"He is serious about it," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat. "I think he has a good idea."

But if the state moves the presidential primary to February, the city's municipal primary would also be held at that time. And scheduling a municipal primary in the middle of winter is troubling to some lawmakers and community activists.

For that reason, Del. Jill P. Carter, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat, has been pushing a bill to move the city's municipal primary to September 2004.

Carter's proposal would shorten the amount of time the lame-duck government would sit from eight months to two. She said the summer months would give challengers a better opportunity to wage their campaigns, rather than in cold and potentially bad weather.

Carter asked the other city delegates to delay a vote on the election date because she is talking to Miller about resolving the dispute over the Baltimore primary.

But the delegation voted to back the measure from O'Malley's administration to hold Baltimore's primary at the same time as the presidential primary - saving the city $500,000. No vote was taken on Carter's bill.

"We all know this issue," said Del. Ann Marie Doory, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat. "I just think we need to be responsible and vote."

The city Senate delegation voted several weeks ago to support the mayor's proposal. The House and Senate typically defer to the wishes of local delegations on issues that affect only their jurisdictions.

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