An influential Baltimore lawmaker threatened yesterday to kill a bill to change the date of the city's primary election unless city officials agree to "substantially" reduce the size of the City Council.
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, House of Delegates majority leader, said that though city officials say they need the election bill as a tool to increase voter turnout and save money, she doesn't think it will help with either.
"I think it is a hoax, just to ask this committee to put the primary when you want it," McIntosh said during a hearing before the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee. "I am one of your roadblocks."
Baltimore officials are asking the General Assembly to change the mayoral primary election to the same year as presidential races.
In 1999, city voters approved a referendum that moved Baltimore's general election to the same year as presidential elections, but the dates of all Maryland primaries are controlled by the state legislature.
If state lawmakers do not act this year or next, the city's mayoral primary will be held in September 2003 and the general election will be held 14 months later, in November 2004.
"If the cycle is not changed ... all of us look a little stupid," City Councilman Robert W. Curran told the committee.
This is the third year the council has tried to persuade state lawmakers to make the change, but each year legislators have killed the bill.
Many in the General Assembly - led in the Senate by President Thomas V. Mike Miller - want the mayoral elections to coincide with the gubernatorial and state legislative races, which are held two years after the presidential election.
Holding city and state elections at the same time would mean that candidates could not run for a state office while holding an elected position in Baltimore. The city is the only local jurisdiction that does not hold municipal elections the same year as state elections.
McIntosh's stance is the toughest any legislator has taken. She said her most significant objection to the city's proposal is that it would create two primaries during the presidential election year.
Presidential primaries are held in March. Under the legislation proposed by city officials, Baltimore's mayoral primary would be held in September of the same year, which could hurt voter turnout and drive up election costs, McIntosh said.
She said city officials say they want to save money and act more efficiently but have yet to act on proposals to reduce the size of the 19-member City Council. McIntosh and other state lawmakers have said the council should reduce its size to reflect the significant drop in Baltimore's population.
As a member of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee and the majority leader, McIntosh could prevent an election bill from reaching the floor of the House. She has not said she is going to kill the bill but has said she just wants city officials to make concessions.
The council is considering two local bills that would reduce its size. That legislation will be heard in the council in the spring, Curran said.