For Congress

Endorsement 2004

October 28, 2004

MARYLAND'S congressional races this year demonstrate clearly what a disservice the most recent redrawing of the district boundaries was to representative government.

The map drawn after the 2000 Census made it easy for Democrats to claim two districts long held by Republicans, enlarging party ranks in what had been an evenly divided eight-member delegation.

But the contortions of district boundaries required to achieve that goal sliced through communities and neighborhoods, often combining a hodgepodge of urban, suburban and rural voters with little in common.

Further, remaining incumbents have been so well-protected that would-be competitors with the experience, backing and financial wherewithal to make a credible challenge have been dissuaded, leaving the job - unfortunately, in our view - to political novices and perennial contenders.

7th District: One of the most thoughtlessly designed districts embraces most of Baltimore, but stretches west through Baltimore County to take in a large chunk of Howard County, including Ellicott City and Columbia. Reconciling the often-conflicting concerns of these communities is no easy task, and the incumbent, five-term Democrat Elijah E. Cummings, 53, has come under fire for failing to recognize the district's new diversity of views.

At the same time, though, Mr. Cummings has achieved national stature over the past two years as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and has demonstrated leadership potential that hadn't been so apparent during his earlier years. Baltimore needs at least one representative of its own in Congress, and Mr. Cummings is the best choice for the job.

Republican Tony Salazar, 45, a bank executive from Ellicott City, offers a moderate, tight-fisted approach that might have strong appeal in the Howard County suburbs. He should get some seasoning at the state or county level before seeking one of the top jobs in the state.

3rd District: This snake-shaped district, which slithers from Owings Mills to Annapolis, is a classic example of one that has been utterly robbed of its community of interest. Nine-term Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, 61, a Baltimore politician since his 20s, has made the best of it by boning up on the peculiar concerns of Chesapeake Bay country to the south.

That's not good enough for Republican Robert P. Duckworth, 64, clerk of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court, who contends he is more in sync with the fiscally conservative voters of the greater Annapolis area. But any district in the state would be well-served by Mr. Cardin, 61, a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and one of the most respected members of Congress.

1st District: In the sweeping district dominated by Maryland's Eastern Shore, seven-term Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest serves with a rare affinity for the environmental and economic concerns that most affect his constituents. Though a staunch advocate of the Chesapeake Bay, Mr. Gilchrest, 58, has been criticized by his Democratic opponent, Kostas Alexakis, for not doing enough.

The bay's deteriorating state does indeed demand redoubled efforts throughout the region, including perhaps the creation of a regulatory authority. But Mr. Alexakis, 50, a first-time candidate appointed to carry the party banner after the Democratic primary winner withdrew in May, is not nearly as well-suited to lead that fight as Mr. Gilchrest.

2nd District: Former Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, 58, snatched this district from the GOP in 2002 and spent his first term learning the ropes in Washington as a minority party back-bencher. He managed, though, to come up with a plan to help military service personnel stationed overseas visit home using donated frequent-flier miles.

Mr. Ruppersberger is being challenged from both the right, by Republican Jane Brooks, who favors a more conservative approach to social issues, such as abortion, and from the left, by Green Party candidate Keith Salkowski, who urges speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and government-run universal health care. Neither makes a persuasive case for replacing the incumbent.

6th District: This page doesn't often agree with the conservative philosophies of Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. But his views generally reflect his sprawling Western Maryland, and neither of his challengers, perennial Democratic candidate Kenneth T. Bosley and Green Party nominee Gregory J. Hemingway, appears likely to do a better job.

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