Electoral first for Baltimore: overlapping districts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Newly elected legislators from Baltimore and Baltimore County are entering a strange new world of regional politics.

Starting now, 13 legislators from five districts that cross the city-county line will have to divide their loyalties between the two jurisdictions.

Not only that, two Republican delegates now represent about 8,000 city residents in Northeast Baltimore as part of the 8th District, which is largely in Baltimore County.

James F. Ports and Alfred Redmer Jr. are the first Republicans elected to represent city residents in the General Assembly in 40 years.

"We're going to be the only true minority in the city delegation," jokes Mr. Ports.

"It's obviously going to be a little frustrating, but that's part of being a Republican in Annapolis."

Many lawmakers say the overlapping districts will force lawmakers to think regionally, perhaps easing sometimes strained relationships. But in Montgomery County, a partisan fight has erupted over similarly overlapping districts. The Democratic members of the Montgomery County House delegation voted last week to exclude two Republicans whose Howard County-based districts take in part of Montgomery.

"Was it a partisan vote? Hell, yes," declares Del. Robert L. Flanagan, who was ousted from the delegation along with fellow Republican Robert H. Kittleman.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat, this week told Montgomery County Democrats that he disapproved of their decision.

Members should be allowed to vote in the delegation meetings in any jurisdiction in which they have constituents, Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Flanagan and Mr. Kittleman, whose district includes about 5,000 residents of Montgomery County, have had voting privileges in Montgomery delegation meetings for the last eight years.

"Maybe Newt Gingrich scared them," Mr. Flanagan said, referring to the fractious Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

While common in some parts of the state, districts that cross jurisdictions weren't introduced to the Baltimore area until the redistricting that followed the 1990 census.

Legislators from Baltimore and Baltimore County have not yet taken up the question of who will get to vote in their respective delegation meetings, although Baltimore lawmakers have asked the attorney general for advice.

The county and city delegations hold meetings for their representatives in the Senate and, separately, the House of Delegates. The groups discuss local issues, come up with unified responses to state issues and vote on bills, such as liquor law changes, that affect that jurisdiction only.

Under one scenario being discussed, the interlopers from the county might get only a partial vote in city delegation matters. (Imagine a vote of, say, 11 3/5 to 10 2/5.) Of course, the county would surely retaliate and adopt a similar rule.

While the issues that come up in the local delegation meetings are usually minor, at least one lawmaker foresees some tough decisions ahead for people representing more than one jurisdiction.

"You can't serve two masters," says Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of the city's Senate delegation.

"There will come a point when they will have to decide which is their treasure and which is their stepchild."

The strangest moment

Perhaps the strangest moment of the recent campaign was the late-night encounter between Muhammad Ali and Parris N. Glendening, the governor-elect.

At the conclusion of a Nov. 3 Democratic rally at the B&O; Railroad Museum in Southwest Baltimore, Mr. Ali appeared unannounced and momentarily unnoticed at one entrance to the cavernous roundhouse. Quickly, though, a crowd closed in on him as he made his way to the middle of the floor.

Mr. Glendening inched toward the former boxing champ and shook his hand. Mr. Ali, who has been slowed noticeably by the effects of Parkinson's disease, appeared to say only a word or two to Mr. Glendening as the crowd applauded loudly.

After their brief meeting, Mr. Ali turned and walked out slowly. Trailed by several dozen people intent on touching, kissing or simply being near him, he made his way to a waiting white stretch limousine and disappeared into the Baltimore night.

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