The task of equalizing Baltimore’s 14 political districts in light of the decline in city population has resulted in two very similar – and now fiercely competitive – redistricting maps drawn up by Mayor Brandon Scott and Council President Nick Mosby.
Last month, Scott released his plan, which made up for the loss of residents in Baltimore’s “Black butterfly” by moving voters from Harbor East and Little Italy into East Baltimore’s 12th District, and shifting midtown Bolton Hill, Upton and Station North into the westside’s 7th District.
After weeks of public and private deliberations, Mosby yesterday unveiled his map, which keeps the core of Scott’s changes, but retains more of the geographic features of the current districts.
Significantly, Mosby backed away from a much-rumored effort to thwart the candidacy of Mark E. Parker in the First District by keeping his Highlandtown residence in the 2nd District.
Last week, James B. Kraft, a former First District Councilman, brought the whispers into the open at a town hall meeting sponsored by the Council president.
“I’ve been told there is a map in your office that may take all of Highlandtown out of the district,” Kraft told Mosby.
“Some say the sole purpose is to end Mark Parker’s candidacy. If so, this would be despicable and would be politics at its worst.”
Mosby, who is known to favor Liam F. Davis, a former Council aide running against Parker, did not dispute Kraft’s remarks except to say, “I haven’t made a determination yet.”
“I ask you to support the mayor’s district [map],” Kraft reiterated, “and stop anything that would prevent the district from having a free and fair election with all of the candidates.”
Another candidate in the First District race, Claudia Towles, last week called the dust-up a “petty dispute between the men in my race” and called on all candidates across the city “to take a pledge that we will not interfere with the redistricting process.”
“Politicians should not be picking their voters, voters should be picking their politicians,” Towles said in an emailed statement.
Meanwhile, a fourth First District candidate, Joe Koehler, has expressed concern that the redistricting process is taking too long.
Mayor Calls Foul
While the new map will please Kraft (who helped kick off Parker’s campaign last year with a $500 contribution), it immediately ran afoul of Scott’s chief of staff, Marvin James.
In a letter released to the press yesterday, James accused Mosby of violating an agreement with the mayor to give his staff time to review any map amendments, then “forcing” the Council to bend to his wishes with a rushed vote.
James faulted the drafting of Mosby’s map by Tony Fairfax, CEO of CensusChannel LLC. Last year, the Board of Estimates approved a $33,750 contract for the Virginia demographics firm to review redistricting on behalf of the Council.
“Politicians should not be picking their voters” – Claudia Towles, First District candidate.
“Mr. Fairfax is not an agreed-upon consultant of the mayor’s office, a government employee of Baltimore City, nor does he have any obligation or responsibility to review the map from a legal perspective to ensure any map passed by the City Council conforms to the requirements set forth by the City Charter,” James wrote.
Saying that city lawyers and the planning department “must approve the redistricting map for form and legal sufficiency, not Mr. Fairfax,” James called on Mosby to step back and “work with the administration on a mutually agreed upon and updated timeline.”
Little Impact on Incumbents
How the 14 Council members will react to the dueling maps is unclear.
Because they are all incumbent Democrats holding safe seats (the exception being Zeke Cohen, who is leaving his First District perch to run for Council president against Mosby in 2024), neither map will seriously impair their electability.
Seen for the first time on Monday by the public and some Council members, there was no back-and-forth about Mosby’s redistricting effort, officially dubbed “Plan A12.”
There is currently no online posting of the maps, and Mosby’s office did not respond to The Brew.
Councilwoman Odette Ramos said she was “very pleased” with the Mosby map because it returns Clifton Park to her 14th District, allowing her office and community groups to continue to work on park improvements.
She said she does not mind losing the Sherwood Gardens precinct in Guilford to the 4th District’s Mark Conway.
The Mosby map would keep the South Baltimore peninsula in the hands of 11th District incumbent Eric Costello.
In other proposed swaps, Mosby wants to return to the First District a portion of Upper Fells Point that Scott had transferred to the 2nd District, along with Washington Hill and parts of Butcher’s Hill.
In South Baltimore, the mayor seeks to move Ridgely’s Delight, Sharp-Leadenhall, Spring Garden and the western part of Port Covington to the 10th District, now represented by Phylicia Porter.
Mosby would keep these neighborhoods in the hands of a close political ally, the 11th District’s Eric Costello, while giving Morrell Park to Porter, and hitching Harbor East and Harbor Point to 12th District incumbent Robert Stokes.
Otherwise, the differences between the two maps are minimal and mostly involve changes to the fringes of the districts.
For example, the red lines below show Scott’s proposed boundaries around Dunbar Broadway, Upper Fells Point and Ellwood Park, while the black lines are Mosby’s rewrite.
Once Every Decade
Redistricting is required every 10 years based on the most recent federal census.
While Baltimore overall lost 35,253 residents between 2010 and 2020, the trend lines between the booming waterfront and the depopulating East and West sides are stark.
The First and 11th Districts gained over 2,500 residents, while the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 12th Districts collectively lost more than 5,000 people.
Outside of the harbor, only Yitzy Schleifer’s 6th District and Ramos’ Hampden/Remington precincts gained significantly more residents than lost them.
Equalizing the 14 districts into parcels of roughly 42,000 people each was the task of the mayor’s office. To avoid excess gerrymandering, his map is legally required to display “compactness” and avoid splitting up established neighborhoods.
Under the city charter, the Council has 60 days to take action on the mayor’s plan.
The map delivered by Scott came late, arriving only last month, which gave the Council a short time frame to approve any amendments.
But instead of taking up the mayor’s plan for review, Mosby has crafted his own map, scheduling a special “committee of the whole” on Thursday to take up any amendments, followed by a full Council vote at 6 p.m.
Such an expedited timeline could potentially give Mosby and his allies time to override a mayoral veto. On the other hand, if the Council does not take action on Mosby’s plan, the Scott map will become law.
Whatever the outcome, redistricting will go into effect for the May 14, 2024 Democratic Party primary where, in overwhelmingly blue Baltimore, the winners that day will become the next crop of elected officials at City Hall.