Gov. Martin O’Malley’s redistricting of Baltimore’s legislative districts for the state’s General Assembly has opened the doors to opportunity for some and promises an eventful election season this fall, political experts said.

“Usually a redistricting election attracts more competition because district lines change, and incumbents—while they always have an advantage—their advantage after redistricting may not be as great,” said Herbert C. Smith, a political analyst at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. “When elected incumbents have new neighborhoods, they have to work harder.”

The redistricting of General Assembly districts, based on the city’s declining population, plus the retirement plans of some lawmakers may have given hope to a crop of political newcomers, creating an extraordinary level of competition.

That fact is clearly evident in District 40, a much more diverse jurisdiction now that it has been joined with neighborhoods previously part of the 44th and 46th districts such as Pigtown, Laurel Park, Hamden and Morrell Park. Seven candidates, including three incumbents, have already filed and many more are expected.

“You are seeing a lot of new folks coming in,” said District 40 contender Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a local elections expert who anticipates that twice the current number of candidates may sign up by the Feb. 25 deadline. “Four years ago you had very little challengers.”

The newly-divided District 44, in particular, will host a particularly heated fight which will turn former colleagues into rivals. Compared to 2002, District 44 now crosses into Baltimore County’s western region.

According to state data, between 2000 and 2010, the population of Baltimore City declined from 651,154 to 624,064. However, the prisoner adjustment to Maryland’s census data, in accordance with the No Representation Without Population Act of 2010, also increased the population of Baltimore City by about 5,703 persons. Meanwhile, the population of Baltimore County increased from 754,292 to 807,053.

Based on the state’s formula, the change would have meant that the city should contain 5.1 Senate districts and the county, 6.5. Instead, officials reconfigured the districts in both jurisdictions, keeping five Senate Districts (40, 41, 43, 45, and 46) entirely within the city but extending Senate District 44 into the county.

District 44 is now subdivided into a single-member delegate district in the southwestern city area (44A) and a two-member delegate district in the Baltimore County portion (44B). Therefore, Baltimore has two fewer representatives in Annapolis.

“With the decrease in influence in numbers there is a possibility that the amount of resources we secured in years past will not be coming back,” said Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-Dist. 44).

It also means that the city’s current delegates Keith Haynes, Keiffer Mitchell and Melvin Stukes will be forced to duke it out with each other, and other contenders, for the District 44A seat.

“It has to make them a bit uncomfortable to be pitted against each other,” Cheatham said.

Sen. Jones is also in an uncomfortable position—having to face former colleagues such as Baltimore County Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam.

“It is sad to see a Black delegate from the county pitted against a Black senator from the city under this scenario. It was unnecessary,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County’s sole African-American senator.

Jones also has a broad swath of new ground to cover in her campaign for reelection. She acknowledged the task would be difficult, but seemed optimistic.

“Two-thirds of my district is new in geography but not necessarily in relationships,” she said. “I have been able to touch Baltimore County in a way that some people have not been able to due to my positions in budget and appropriations committees.”

Plus, she added, “I have an asset that no one else has—I am the senator of this district.”

Sen. Kelley is not so sanguine about the changes. The county senator, who represented a largely minority district before the lines were redrawn, now finds herself in territory where “it did not make sense to send the only Black senator in Baltimore County.”

Kelley sued the state in 2012 over its redistricting plan, decrying the decision to extend District 44 into the county, and the resulting reconfiguration of District 10. The longtime lawmaker said she didn’t understand why officials “picked” on the only majority-minority district in the county.

“We had the only majority-minority district in all of Baltimore County,” she said, “and after we worked so hard to bring that district around and gotten people civically engaged, they came in and cut that district in half.”

But officials may have seen the move as necessary to shore up Baltimore City’s political base in Annapolis, Smith, the political science professor, said.

“The point of the redistricting plan was to try to preserve as much representation and political clout for the city as possible,” he said. “The city has needs that far more affluent per capita counties don’t. So, having as many senators and delegates in Annapolis as possible is a must.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO