Baltimore’s Little Italy and Harbor East neighborhoods as well as the city’s sports stadiums would move to new council districts under a redistricting plan unveiled Monday by Mayor Brandon Scott.
The proposal, which still must be approved by the City Council, makes the heaviest alterations to Districts 1 and 11, currently represented by Councilmen Zeke Cohen and Eric Costello, respectively. Costello’s and Cohen’s districts are the two fastest-growing in the city, while districts represented by council members John Bullock (District 9), James Torrence (District 7), Antonio Glover (District 13) and Phylicia Porter (District 10) have lost the most people.
The proposed moves would balance out those gains and losses, settling on about 41,000 people per council district.
Costello’s District 11 would lose the area where the stadiums sit as well as the northernmost section of his district around the Upton and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, which includes a portion of the Maryland Institute College of Art. District 7, currently represented by Torrence, would pick up those areas.
Costello also would cede a precinct in the south of Upton to Bullock’s District 9 and a section of the Baltimore Peninsula area to Porter’s District 10.
Asked what he thought of the proposed changes Monday, Costello said he was “still reviewing” the map.
Cohen’s District 1 would give up Harbor East and Little Italy under Scott’s proposal, adding it to District 12, represented by Councilman Robert Stokes. A portion of Upper Fells and homes just north of Patterson Park would move to District 13, represented by Glover, and the area around Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital would shift to District 2, represented by Councilwoman Danielle McCray.
Cohen, who is running for City Council president in 2024 rather than his District 1 seat, said he is “incredibly proud of the growth” his district has experienced but is “disappointed to lose parts of my district.”
“I represent diverse, thriving neighborhoods,” he said. “I hope to continue to represent them all as City Council president. I will continue to study the map and engage in conversations with communities, colleagues and the mayor’s office to determine how I will vote.”
Stokes said he has “no complaints” about the proposal to add Harbor East and Little Italy to his district. He said he already has relationships with business owners in the area, specifically mentioning Alex Smith with Atlas Restaurant Group, which operates several eateries in the area.
“I lost people but that’s picking up some businesses,” he said.
Scott’s redistricting proposal was formally introduced before the council Monday evening.
While many communities across Maryland approved redistricting plans in 2022 following the completion of the 2020 census, Baltimore’s charter does not require the mayor to submit a plan until February 2024, ahead of the city’s next municipal election.
According to the charter, the council can adopt or amend the mayor’s plan, or choose to adopt another plan. If no plan has been adopted by the council within 60 days of the mayor’s presentation of his plan, the mayor’s plan takes effect, according to the charter.
The charter requires council districts to be “contiguous” and “compact.” Natural boundaries and existing council districts also must be considered when redrawing lines.
Marvin James, Scott’s chief of staff, said Monday that the mayor’s office met with each member of the council to provide an overview of the proposal and hear any concerns. Feedback so far primarily has been requests rather than complaints, James said.
“The mayor wanted to provide the council members and any of the communities which will have new council people more than enough time to be educated, and more importantly, to be communicated to on behalf of the city and the State Board of Elections,” James said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
In March 2022, the council got approval to hire Virginia-based company CensusChannel to assist with compiling the city’s demographic information and producing several maps based on the data, according to the contract. The $33,750 contract was executed and the firm has been assisting the council, said Aaron DeGraffenreidt, an attorney who represents the council. DeGraffenreidt said he was not yet sure whether the council would draw its own maps, noting that the mayor’s office had been working with the group.
Since 2002, Baltimore has had 14 council districts. The council president, the board’s 15th member, is elected citywide.
Baltimore’s new council district boundaries will be in place before the May 14 primary, which likely will be the deciding race in heavily Democratic Baltimore. All of the council’s current members are Democrats.
However, Baltimore’s charter states that no member of the City Council can be required to vacate their office due to a change in boundary lines made during a member’s term, so long as the member remains a Baltimore resident. In elections following the adoption of a new redistricting plan, members of the City Council are required to be residents of their districts since the preceding July.
Torrence, who represents District 7, said he was happy to see the proposed plan consolidate some neighborhoods that were previously divided among several council districts. Until now, Torrence has been sharing the Druid Heights neighborhood with other members, he said.
The plan also would make a more continuous district along North Avenue, said Torrence, calling it a positive.
“I think the challenges remain the same no matter where we go,” Torrence said. “The issues are about crime and development. How do we do development that’s not going to displace residents.”