Sharper boundaries put cloudier future in front of Hoffman

Sun Staff

Barbara A. Hoffman glanced around at the inside of her brick ranch home yesterday and reminded herself that the bathrooms need some work. Plumbing and painting mostly.

The condition of a state senator's lavatories wouldn't normally enter a conversation about politics, but Hoffman was using the planned renovation to make a point.

"I'm not going anywhere," said the 62-year-old Baltimore Democrat. "This is my home, and I have no intention of giving it up."

The thought that the chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee would even consider leaving the tidy house in Cheswolde, where she has lived since 1966, was prompted by Friday's release of new legislative districts. The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting plan and redrew the boundary lines to conform with state constitutional requirements.

The map's effect -- on Hoffman and many of her colleagues -- was a symbolic shifting of the ground beneath their feet.

Politicians generally don't like surprises, and this was the ultimate pop quiz: study the new map and determine how to survive. The lawmakers have until July 1 to establish residency, and until July 8 to file to run.

The map was a reminder that politics -- even the arcane task of creating legislative boundaries -- can have very personal consequences.

Overnight, Hoffman's hold on her political life became tenuous. Her 42nd District, which crossed the city-county line and incorporated large Jewish communities, was made an all-county district.

Hoffman has ended up in a redrawn 41st District, where she could be challenged by other legislative veterans and where her popularity is less assured. Some lawmakers openly wondered whether she should move into the new 42nd District in Baltimore County, a tempting prospect because it has no incumbent senator.

Yesterday, there was a hint of defiance in Hoffman's voice as she said she wasn't budging from the city where she was born and raised. "The thought that I would, in a week, go buy a new house or a condo or something," Hoffman said, not bothering to finish the sentence.

At her home, she enthusiastically pointed out various mementos of her service to the city -- an ostrich egg from the , a glass vase from the public school system. "This is why I'm not leaving," she said.

Having served in the state Senate since 1983, Hoffman recently withdrew her name from consideration for a high-level lobbying position with the . She said she isn't ready to abandon life in the State House.

But the court's order clearly rattled her. She huddled with legislative allies late Friday, then was up at dawn studying the new map and sending e-mails to colleagues.

Other legislators, too, appeared flustered, saying that losing their familiar districts was like losing an old friend. "There was a little bit of shock -- a 'Why did this happen?'" said Del. James W. Campbell, a Baltimore Democrat who was in Hoffman's old 42nd District.

Campbell said he was approached in that district yesterday by two senior citizens inquiring about janitorial service at a recreation center they use for meetings. Even though he won't be representing them anymore, he jotted down their concerns and pledged to follow up on them.

"People get comfortable with who represents them, and they wonder why it has to change," Campbell said. "It's all based on personal connections and personal relationships."

Under the new map, Campbell is with Hoffman in the 41st District, which is about 70 percent black. Hoffman is white, as is Campbell, who hasn't decided whether to run in the 41st or in an adjoining district.

Hoffman said she rejects any notion that she could not be elected in a black-majority district. Mayor Martin O'Malley "is an example of how people of different races can win in the other race's district," she said.

The 41st District's incumbent senator, Clarence W. Blount, may retire, but other challengers to Hoffman may emerge among incumbent delegates.

She discussed her options with Campbell and other colleagues Friday night in a friend's living room. Some members of the group drank wine and pored over maps and statistics on voting patterns in various precincts.

Earlier that night, she had celebrated her 42nd wedding anniversary at a favorite restaurant with her husband, Donald. She recalled thinking: "I'm upset about what happened, but I have to eat."

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