72,000 Baltimore residents to find themselves in new City Council districts Friday
About 72,000 Baltimoreans will find themselves represented by a new City Council member on Friday morning, according to an opinion issued late last week by the city’s law department that contradicts the city’s past practices.
“We were pretty surprised,” said Councilman James B. Kraft, who co-chaired the council’s redistricting committee. “It’s confusing for people, but any project we’re working on, we’re going to continue working on.”
Throughout the hearings this year on the new council map drawn by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, council members and a redistricting expert contracted by the council contended that, for purposes of representation, the new districts would not take effect until December, after the November elections to determine the makeup of the next council.
But on March 25, Assistant City Solicitor Victor K. Tervala wrote in a memo to council members that the new boundaries would take effect today “for the purpose of both election and representation.”
While residents generally appeared pleased or indifferent to the district map approved by the council Monday, residents of some comunities — most notably Butcher’s Hill and Upper Fells Point — expressed anger that the new boundaries split their neighborhoods.
About 72,000 people, or one in nine city residents, will find themselves in a new district Friday, according to John Willis, the former Maryland secretary of state who shepherded the council through the redistricting process.
In the memo, Tervala notes that while other jurisdictions — including the state ¬— differentiate between the date new districts go into effect for elections and representation, the city charter makes no such distinction.
He points to a note attached to a 1994 amendment to the charter that states that an incumbent whose home has been removed from a district would represent the newly drawn district as evidence for his opinion.
Yet in 2003, the last time the lines were redrawn, council members continued to represent the districts delineated by the old boundaries until a new council was sworn in in December.
City solicitor George Nilson referred questions about the proposal to a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake. Spokesman Ryan O’Doherty did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said that he was surprised by the law department’s opinion, but expressed faith in its decision.
“This is my third redistricting,” he said. “Usually the way it was was that we waited until after the swearing-in to start serving the new district, but that doesn’t mean it was right.”
A spokesman for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said that the council president’s office was seeking clarification on the law department’s rationale.
“We’re trying to figure out the basis for this interpretation,” spokesman Lester Davis said. He stressed that all residents would be represented by a council person.
Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who co-chaired the redistricting committee with Kraft and had staunchly opposed Rawlings-Blake’s plan, said that she has already started meeting with residents of Reservoir Hill, which shifted into her district.
Reisinger, who swapped vast tracts with Councilman William H. Cole IV, said that they were working closely to address the concerns of residents who were moved to new districts.
“It will work out,” said Reisinger. “I’ve seen stranger things happen.”