State mapmakers come to Baltimore
Baltimore residents and neighborhood leaders made a pitch Friday for preserving as much of the city’s power in the General Assembly as possible with new legislative districts that would straddle the city-county line.
The advocates spoke before the five-member panel tasked with redrawing the state’s legislative map to reflect population changes recorded in the 2010 Census.
Baltimore stands to lose representation in Annapolis after losing some 30,000 residents over the last decade.
The governor’s redistricting advisory committee, which includes state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, is charged with recommending new congressional and legislative maps to Gov. Martin O’Malley.
O’Malley is not required to use their work when he proposes a congressional map to the General Assembly in October or a legislative map in January.
Until recently, Baltimore was able to retain political power despite decades of population decline by sharing representatives with the surrounding counties.
But Maryland's Court of Appeals rejected the last effort to create districts that cross the city-county line, after the 2000 Census.
Judge Robert M. Bell drew a new map that included six districts entirely within the city’s borders, represented by six senators and 18 delegates. Such a map in the current round of redistricting would leave the city with five districts, represented by five senators and 15 delegates.
State Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, who chairs the city’s Senate delegation, said members agree that the city should poach population from surrounding counties. She said she'd be open to her own district expanding into Baltimore County.
Citizens Planning and Housing Association director Mel Freeman agreed. He said projects such as the Red Line and State Center require lawmakers to take a regional view.
The current map, he said, “created an island,” discouraging the type of cross-jurisdictional partnerships he said are needed for success.
Though the hearing was sparsely attended compared to others elsewhere in the state, commenters made some of the most pointed criticism to date. David Greene, a city resident, took lawmakers to task for the “arrogance” of Maryland’s current congressional map.
Particularly in Central Maryland, that map cuts through counties and neighborhoods in a tangle of lines designed to link Democratic voters together and limit Republican power in Congress. He said one district resembles a cow-brand that lawmakers stamped on the state.
He compared the public lack of concern about gerrymandering to what he says was once a similar attitude toward date rape.
“Everyone says 'politicians will be politicians,' “ Greene said. “It is time for us to shift our attitudes just as we did with date rape. Not acceptable.”
He drew applause when he asked: “Are you going to fix this problem or are you going to rape us again?”