For months now, members of the Baltimore City Council have been telling Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake what they'd like to see when she draws new boundaries for their districts.
Staffers say the redistricting plan she is scheduled to unveil Monday reflects a good-faith effort to divide the population evenly, keep neighborhoods whole and respect the racial makeup of the city, as required by federal law.
"It's pretty clear to me that the mayor has a mission to protect her supporters and to be sure she has enough supporters on the City Council … to guarantee passage of any measure she proposes," said Paul Robinson, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.
Robinson said Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, who narrowly won re-election in 2007, "was vulnerable, very vulnerable, and the vulnerability becomes less of an issue after the gerrymandering."
Terry Hickey, an attorney who lost to Reisinger in 2007 and planned to run again this year, said the proposal appears "overly convenient" for the incumbent, and makes it difficult for other candidates.
"It puts you at a significant disadvantage," the Locust Point resident said. "You don't know where your donors are going to be, you don't know where the voters are. It's one other obstacle to there being new candidates. The system begets the system."
Council Member William H. Cole IV won his seat easily four years ago. But the former state delegate still stands to benefit from the mayor's proposal, which would add Federal Hill and Locust Point to a district that already contains Downtown and Mount Vernon, combining many of the city's most prosperous neighborhoods.
"It's a powerful position to be in," Robinson said. "It could be the perfect launch pad if he has political ambitions above and beyond his council seat."
A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake rejected the claim that boundaries were drawn to favor incumbents.
Cole said the change proposed for his district "does seem to make a lot of sense." He lives in Otterbein but spends much of his time in Federal Hill, eating at Rallo's or coaching his daughters' sports teams.
"I'm pleased we're able to reconnect neighborhoods again," he said.
Rawlings-Blake's proposal reflects the population shifts of the last decade. The city is estimated to have lost 20,000 residents in that time; all but two of the 14 council districts are believed to have lost population.
A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said the plan reunites more than a dozen neighborhoods that had been divided among more than one district, including Belair-Edison, Guilford, Harlem Park and Poppleton.
To meet a deadline set by city charter, the map had to be redrawn before the release of comprehensive census data. Officials say the proposal is based on reliable estimates, and can be amended once more data is released in February.
Under the charter, a map must be approved by April 1.
Rawlings-Blake's proposal would sweep Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods including Violetville, Gwynns Falls and Pigtown (also known as Washington Village) into Reisinger's district. Council members pledged in 2007 to consolidate Pigtown into one district; it is currently split among three.
Reisinger, who lives in Morrell Park, said he suggested the new boundaries to the mayor not for political reasons but because they make sense.
"The map is conceptual. I'm just trying to look at the similarity of the neighborhoods and trying to make the district more central to where I live at," said Reisinger. "Those communities are close to my community and have similarities — the way the houses are, the people."
Mayor to unveil new City Council map
Staffers say proposal fairly divides population; critics see politics
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