O'Malley's redistricting plan approved, 12-4, by City Council

Incumbents lose advantage under system, experts say

March 25, 2003|By Doug Donovan and Tom Pelton | Doug Donovan and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The City Council approved a plan yesterday that reshapes Baltimore's political landscape for the next decade and will eliminate four of its own members after next year's election.

The reduction of the council was approved by voters last year and trims the body from 19 members to 15.

The new law, which passed overwhelmingly, only slightly amends the plan introduced by Mayor Martin O'Malley in January and replaces the council's current configuration of six three-member districts with 14 single-member ones. The council president will continue to be elected citywide.

The council and O'Malley opposed the drastic change last year, but the referendum approved in November forced them to draw the new boundaries for the council's districts.

"Neighborhoods that are used to having three representatives will now only have one person on council," said Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings Blake, co-chairwoman of the council's redistricting committee. "Voters were so gung-ho for [the referendum] that they left it in someone else's hand to decide who will be their representatives."

That hand was O'Malley's.

By law the mayor had to draft a map. He introduced it Jan. 27, giving the council 30 days to make amendments.

The final plan included changes the council added last week to accommodate requests from several west-side neighborhoods: Harlem Park, Windsor Hills, Garwyn Oaks, West Forest Park, Medfield and Woodberry.

The new configuration, which will be used for next year's election, is expected to drastically change how council members run for office.

Many political experts agree that political novices will have a better chance at winning a seat on the council, a job that pays $48,000 a year.

For more than 30 years, the six three-member districts allowed candidates to run on a ticket, combining their finances, time and effort. That system favored incumbents, experts said.

Now each council member will be forced to campaign alone. And the single-member districts contain about 46,500 residents, which will give candidates an opportunity to meet nearly all the registered voters.

In three new districts, incumbents who had been allies will have to run against one another: Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. and Lois A. Garey in the new 2nd District in Northeastern Baltimore; Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Pamela V. Carter in the new 12th District east of downtown; and Melvin L. Stukes and Edward L. Reisinger in the new 10th District in South Baltimore.

Another potential battle between incumbents was avoided when Kwame Osayaba Abayomi said he would not run again.

"As a councilperson, you're on your own and you've got to do your own thing," Carter said. "You don't have a ticket anymore."

The council approved the change in a 12-4 vote. Council President Sheila Dixon abstained, and two members, Paula Johnson Branch and Garey, were absent.

Those who voted against the plan were John L. Cain, D'Adamo, Helen L. Holton and Lisa Joi Stancil.

The members who voted in favor of the redistricting plan were Carter, Young, Abayomi, Rawlings Blake, Reisinger, Stukes, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Robert W. Curran, Kenneth N. Harris Sr., Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Catherine E. Pugh and Agnes Welch.

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