City Delegation Fights to Retain Black Voter Strength

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Baltimore City’s Black state lawmakers are fighting to ensure the city and the state’s Black populations don’t lose political clout when legislative and congressional lines are redrawn during this year’s redistricting process. Baltimore City was the only jurisdiction in the state to lose population over the last 10 years, which means it must pick up residents from surrounding counties to inch closer to the state’s ideal population size.

While the city shrunk, the state’s minority population grew. Now Black lawmakers must determine how to preserve Black voting strength, the city’s political power and support incumbents in the Democratic Party.

As far as the legislative map goes, it is widely perceived that Baltimore City will lose at least one of its six legislative districts. But many members of the city’s delegation are urging the governor’s five-member redistricting advisory committee to consider picking up residents from surrounding jurisdictions to ensure Baltimore keeps its six districts.

“Going across county lines is key,” said Sen. Verna Jones, D-44, during a public hearing Aug. 12 at Morgan State University. “We are no longer working in political silos and we need to make sure regions are taken care of, not just our districts.”

Meanwhile, residents are fighting to keep their current districts intact. “We have built a relationship with our senators and delegates and we want them to stay,” said Angela Bethea-Sperman, president of the Uplands Community Association in Jones’ district. The activist is confident residents will trickle back into her district after construction is complete for the Uplands development project. “We have a long waiting list of homeownership in Harbor East and rental is coming in the next couple of months,” she said.

Still federal law requires maps be redrawn based on population data from the most recent census, not future projections. “Baltimore City on any given day, Monday through Friday, is the largest jurisdiction in the state,” said Del. Kurt Anderson, chair of the Baltimore City Delegation. “People that work here, at the end of the day, they go to their homes in the counties and are counted there. We need strength to keep the city the hub because the city is the engine that runs the state.”

He said prospects for preserving the city’s power “look good. The main thing is to get a plan that Judge Bell will approve."

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell shut down a legislative map approved by the General Assembly in 2002 as unconstitutional. It outlined 10 districts within Baltimore.

The city delegation is also fighting to preserve the seats of the state’s two Black representatives in Capitol Hill – Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George’s County and Elijah Cummings of Baltimore City.

The Legislative Black Caucus is hammering out a congressional map that redraws Cummings’ 7th district, which must be adjusted to account for the loss of population, to encompass the entire city and a portion of Baltimore County. “Many of the residents that left Baltimore City moved to the county, so they have a strong connection to the city,” said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy of Prince George’s County at a Legislative Black Caucus hearing. “Even though I’m from Prince George’s County, I understand the importance of preserving the power of Baltimore City.”

She says Baltimore City must remain an intact district because the representatives in the other three surrounding districts, who are all White, live in other counties. That could mean they would not advocate as hard for Baltimore City as they would for the other counties where they have stronger bases.

What’s more, Blacks account for roughly 30 percent of the state’s residents, and the Hispanic and Asian populations are swelling to make Maryland a 45 percent minority state.

With only two people of color representing Maryland in Congress, Black legislators could campaign for new district lines that increase the possibility of another minority’s election, but pushing for another majority-minority district could push a White Democratic incumbent, who is an ally, out of his seat.

The General Assembly is set to vote on the new Congressional map during a special session in October and a legislative map will be presented in January.

Four more redistricting public hearings will be held throughout the state through early September, including one at Towson University on Aug 27. The Maryland Department of Planning will also accept comments from the public through Sept 19 for the Congressional map or through Oct. 31 for the legislative map.