Redistricting: Mighty Baltimore to lose influence

City delegation will be smaller, but who will get the ax?

August 11, 2011|By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's once-hefty delegation in the state legislature is due to slim down again when new political boundaries are drawn this year: The city is guaranteed to lose at least part of one of its six legislative districts.

And while any part of the state would bemoan the loss of influence in Annapolis, Baltimore is particularly vulnerable: The city relies on the capital for support, getting back $1.07 in state spending for every tax dollar it sends — much more than the average jurisdiction.

"The more political strength that Baltimore loses, the more likely it is things will be done to it instead of for it," said former state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, who lost her city seat after the last round of redistricting forced her into the same district as a fellow incumbent.

The continuing loss of representation follows the ongoing exodus of residents out of the city. Officials now are redrawing legislative districts to take into account the population shifts of the last decade.

The governor's redistricting advisory committee, which has been criscrossing the state to collect public comment, is scheduled on Friday to make its only appearance in Baltimore. The hearing is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the student center at Morgan State University.

The committee is charged with recommending a legislative map to Gov. Martin O'Malley. O'Malley, a Democrat, is due to present his plan to the General Assembly in January. The final map will serve as the basis for the 2014 elections, and take effect for the 2015 legislative session.

The slow leak of political power from Baltimore to other parts of Maryland has been going on for years.

Consider this: In the late 1970s, a meeting of Baltimore's lawmakers required 44 chairs.

Today, 24 will do the job — and when the new map is drawn, some of those seats will be taken away.

The city now is divided into six legislative districts, each represented by a senator and three delegates. All areDemocrats.

But after the city lost about 30,000 people in a decade when most other jurisdictions in the state grew, political players see Baltimore losing at least a delegate or two, and possibly an entire district.

That will mean fewer lawmakers from Baltimore in 2015, which coincides with another challenge to the city's clout in Annapolis: The end of former Mayor O'Malley's second and final term as governor.

While it's early yet, the clutch of candidates seen as likely to succeed O'Malley in Annapolis includes no one from Baltimore.

Lawmakers from Baltimore have tried to goose the numbers in the city's favor. State Sen. Catherine Pugh championed a law that allows Baltimore and other jurisdictions to count inmates who are locked up elsewhere among their local populations. That added 5,700 "residents" to Charm City's total.

Govs. William Donald Schaefer and Parris Glendening tried to preserve Baltimore's representation by creating districts that were partially in the city and partially in a surrounding county.

But the map proposed by Glendening and approved by the General Assembly in 2002 failed a legal challenge. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell ruled that it included "an excessive number of political subdivision crossings."

Bell redrew the map and put all of Baltimore's legislative districts in the city: Baltimore delegation dropped from 10 to six.

If the current crew of mapmakers follows the Bell doctrine and eschews split districts, the Baltimore delegation will drop from six senators and 18 delegates to five senators and 15 delegates.

That could mean freshman Sen. Bill Ferguson gets the boot, along with the three delegates in his district. He's got only one legislative session under his belt, and hasn't had the time to build the types of relationships that can offer protection.

But what the 28-year-old senator lacks in seniority, he makes up in population: Ferguson's district includes all the city's waterfront neighborhoods, which are among the few areas of the city that are picking up residents. And two of the three delegates in the district do have seniority, including Del. Peter A. Hammen, who chairs the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Ferguson said it is "critical" that Baltimore retain at least six senators. He predicted the city would pick up population in the future. Ferguson did not comment on specific plans.

The two districts emptying out the fastest are in Central and West Baltimore. One is now held by Pugh, who currently is focused on her Democratic primary challenge to MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake.

But some senior Baltimore lawmakers have another idea: Challenge Bell's logic. Plans in play include districts that would cross into Baltimore County or Anne Arundel County or both.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden is pushing that possibility.

"We ought to do all we can do to maintain six districts in the Baltimore area," he said.

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