LOOK AT a spreadsheet and it resembles a sleeping giant waiting to wake up.
The numbers are eye-popping. Blacks make up 27 percent of Maryland's population, the largest concentration outside the deep South. The city's black population hovers around 67 percent, while Prince George's County's is a tad higher at 70 percent.
More to the point, the Maryland Court of Appeals, in its drastic reworking of the legislative map, awarded 80 percent of the city's political turf to blacks, who make up only 67 percent of the population. In the new world order, five of the city's six districts have black populations of 70 percent or more, while only one retains white representation in the Senate.
Ditto Mayor Martin O'Malley's city reapportionment map. He replaces six three-member councilmanic districts with 14 single-member districts - 12 black-majority and two white-majority districts. Superimposed on the legislative map, together the two give blacks an iron grip on elective politics if they choose to organize and exercise it either as an electoral force or a bargaining bloc.
There are 42 black members of the General Assembly - 10 senators and 32 delegates. Of the total, 13 are from Prince George's County, which also has a black county executive.
So the convenient convergence of a court-assembled redistricting map as well as the city reapportionment plan, and the primal scream of raw power, has created the potential for a black political powerhouse in statewide politics.
The numbers alone would rival, if only in size and sprawl, the heady days of political bosses such as William "Papa" Curran (1940s), James H. "Jack" Pollack (1950s and 1960s) and Irv Kovens (1970s and 1980s).
The predicate is: Can the city's blacks align with the 70 percent black majority in Prince George's County to form a unified statewide political organization that would consolidate nearly a third of the state's voting population?
The last attempt to form a city-PG alliance was choreographed by attorney Larry S. Gibson, political rapmaster for former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and recent Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. The scheme evanesced into the mists when their candidate for governor, Eileen M. Rehrmann, was decapitated in 1998.
Preparation and opportunity toddle hand-in-hand. Next year's presidential primary could provide a test run of the nascent black power potential through the candidacy of the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Despite the similar profiles that Baltimore and Prince George's share, competing regional interests and personal rivalries often interfere with the coming together of their voters.
During the recent General Assembly session, for example, Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's convened a series of meetings among black legislators to work out an action plan on slot machines. In the end, Mr. Wynn helped kill slots by urging blacks to vote against legislation unless it included a casino in Prince George's. The black vote scattered.
There are other prospects for a unification of the black vote. In addition to Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Wynn, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of the 7th District is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The new recognition of black political power was nowhere more evident than on the playing field of Maryland's recent campaign for governor. Mr. Wynn, Prince George's point man for black politics, organized the county's black scolding and public snub of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for her failure to choose a black understudy, namely former Montgomery County Council member Isaiah Leggett.
By contrast, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pointed his mojo directly at Prince George's for a black running mate, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Mr. Wynn's outburst, and the Steele/Leggett two-step, helped to depress Ms. Townsend's black vote both in Baltimore and Prince George's. Mr. Cummings was Ms. Townsend's human trumpet in Baltimore.
In the pathology of politics, it's a toothsome twist that Mr. Leggett is now chairman of the state Democratic Party, another notch toward consolidating a black power center.
So here in Maryland, in name only the most Democratic state in the country and surely among the most liberal with its huge black population, is possibly heading lickety-split back to the time-warp days of organization politics.
The numbers say it's doable. But competing self-interests indicate otherwise.
Frank A. DeFilippo, press secretary to former Gov. Marvin Mandel, has been writing about Maryland politics for more than 40 years.