State Sen. Verna L. Jones-Rodwell, the chairwoman of Baltimore's Senate delegation, announced her retirement Monday, effectively ceding her seat to Baltimore County Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam after the state merged their districts.
The development marks the latest example of legislative influence leaving the city’s limits — the result of a state redistricting process that will allot Baltimore with three fewer lawmakers. After redistricting moved much of her 44th District into Baltimore County, Jones-Rodwell faced a tough Democratic primary challenge from Nathan-Pulliam.
“I feel that I have served a great career,” Jones-Rodwell, 58, said. “Now I'm going to go and do something else at the end of my term. I'm weighing different options.”
But the lawmaker said the race did not affect her decision. In the new 44th District, formerly all in the city, about two-thirds of the residents are county residents.
“I wish Verna all the best,” Nathan-Pulliam, 74, said. “I'm sure this was a very hard decision for her to make.”
As of the latest campaign finance reports, Nathan-Pulliam had about $80,000 on hand and Jones-Rodwell had about $62,000.
The contest was set up by the loss of population in the city in the 2010 Census, which showed that Baltimore had only enough people to support five legislative districts and a portion of a sixth. The state merged West Baltimore's 44th with much of what used to be the 10th District, which Nathan-Jones represents.
The district remains heavily Democratic, meaning the primary winner is expected to win the general election.
“My passion is Baltimore City,” said Jones-Rodwell, who has been in office since 2003. “When the redistricting happened, I went out with the same type of vigor in Baltimore County. It was going to be a race. That wasn't the issue. Whoever was the best candidate would have won.”
The redistricting also means three sitting city delegates, Keith E. Haynes, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Del. Melvin L. Stukes, will compete for one seat.
Matthew Crenson, Johns Hopkins University political science professor emeritus, said the development underscores Baltimore’s weakened influence in state politics.
“It reflects the reality of the redistribution of the state population,” he said. “It means Baltimore will have a lot less weight in getting resources from the state to the city.”
Although the city’s population decreased over the last decade, Crenson noted some positive momentum toward increasing population since 2012.
“A lot of young couples are moving into the city,” he said. “The city’s population is going to change, but it’s going to change slowly.”
Jones-Rodwell was a member of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee and was a key player in winning passage of legislation for a $1.1 billion plan to rebuild the city's dilapidated school buildings.
Despite her plans to retire, Jones-Rodwell's name will still be on the ballot.
“If I were elected, I would not serve,” she said. “I’m not interested in going back to the Maryland General Assembly.”
She touted work done securing money for schools and economic development as some of her top achievements in the Senate.
“I've been able to bring billions of dollars into my district,” she said. “It's been a good ride.”
Nathan-Pulliam, a registered nurse who’s been in office since 1995, has been a leader on health-related issues, including pushing the idea of Health Enterprise Zones to serve areas with high levels of uninsured residents. She said she’s worked on city issues in the past and plans to advocate for Baltimore in the future.
“I’m familiar with working with the mayor and county executive and working across the county lines,” she said. “It bothers me when I see the boarded-up houses. It bothers me when I see high addiction. Those are areas I’d like to work on. I’d like to see more people in treatment and more jobs created.”