Black lawmakers sharply criticized the governor's proposed General Assembly redistricting plan Thursday, saying his committee has drawn a map that will likely produce a legislature that looks whiter than the actual population of Maryland.
"I consider this map to be a slap to the face of black Democrats," Del. Tiffany T. Alston, a Prince George's County Democrat, said during a three-hour public hearing on the plan in Annapolis.
Leaders of the legislature's black caucus and the state chapter of the NAACP both said that a map with districts that reflected Maryland's population would have 14 Senate and 41 delegate seats from majority-black districts. Instead, the map produced by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee has only 12 such Senate seats and 36 for delegates.
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"The result of the plan will be to keep African-American voters under-represented and white voters significantly over-represented," said state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a black lawmaker from Upper Marlboro.
A five-member committee appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, unveiled last week a proposed map of General Assembly districts redrawn to take into account population changes identified by the 2010 Census. The changes further diminish Baltimore's representation in the legislature because of city population losses.
Statewide, the plan would increase the number of majority-black districts over the map drawn 10 years ago. The new map would add two Senate districts with a majority of African-American voters in Prince George's County, and for the first time create a House of Delegates district in Prince George's that is majority Hispanic.
O'Malley told critics he would consider their objections, but made no promises. "I'm here to listen," he said, though he added that some people are always unhappy when political districts are redrawn.
"I have never been through a redistricting process where people come out and say, 'This is better than the map we used to have,'" O'Malley said of criticism of the proposal. "This is always an inconvenience ... but it's required of us."
Carletta Fellows, who spoke on behalf of a civil rights group called the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, called the plan "racist" and said the public wasn't given enough notice about the hearing.
"Why is the black community only getting six days to respond to this proposal?" she asked, calling the situation a "gross miscarriage of justice" and "proof of intended racial dilution."
Radamase Cabrera, spokesman for the group, threatened legal action should O'Malley stick with the plan in its current state. "If he does that, the first place we're going to is the Court of Appeals. If we don't get all of what we want there, we're going into federal court," he said. "We have literally all the time we need to argue this out." The group is already taking part in a lawsuit challenging the state's congressional redistricting plan.
The governor can make changes to the map proposed by his committee. Under the Maryland Constitution, he must introduce his proposal on the first day of the legislative session that begins next month. The House and Senate can make their own changes, but don't have to. If the chambers fail to agree on a map within the 45 days, the governor's automatically becomes law.
The final map will be in effect starting in the 2014 General Assembly election.
Under the plan, Baltimore would lose two of its 18 delegates and share one of its six senators with Baltimore County. The plan radically redraws Baltimore's 44th Senate District, which lost 25,144 people in the last 10 years — shrinking more than any other in the state. Under the proposed map, the 44th stretches into western Baltimore County in a hybrid city-county Senate seat.
Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, who now holds that seat, has said she does not object to the change, but the move affects several city delegates. The smaller city portion of her district would include the Bolton Hill home of freshman Del. Keiffer Mitchell, a Democrat who may launch a bid for a seat in the other chamber. In addition, the homes of the other two delegates currently representing the district, Keith Haynes and Melvin Stukes, would be moved to the 40th and 41st, respectively. That sets up two House races in 2014 where incumbents would be forced to run against each other.
Pushing part of Jones-Rodwell's district into the county sets off a wave of changes. Sen. Delores G. Kelley, the county's only African-American senator, would have a district that's still majority black, but less so.
Kelley testified Thursday that she believed she could win in the new district, but worried about communities along Liberty Road being split up.
"Your map cannibalizes the current 10th district by splitting long-standing African-American communities of interest along the Liberty Road corridor," she testified. "Your map removes from the 19th legislative district its very heart."
Black lawmakers weren't the only ones dissatisfied with the plan.
GOP Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio of the Eastern Shore said current population density means the Shore and Carroll County should have greater representation. In Anne Arundel County, Republican Del. Cathleen Vitale urged O'Malley to avoid splitting the community of Severna Park into three districts, as the current plan proposes. And Demaris "Dee" Hodges, chairwoman of the Maryland Taxpayers Association, objected to a "packing of conservatives into two districts" in Baltimore County, in part by dividing Parkville from Perry Hall.
O'Malley's redistricting committee itself came under fire Thursday after Republicans learned that one of its members, Richard Stewart, had recently been convicted of tax evasion in federal court.
"The Governor's redistricting plan has been criticized by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike for its partisan and divisive nature," David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said in the statement. "But now, the integrity of the entire map and the process in which it was crafted must be questioned."
Before Thursday's hearing, O'Malley said Stewart never told him about his legal troubles. The governor said Stewart would play no further role in the redistricting plan and also would have to resign from the Maryland Stadium Authority board.
"On a personal and professional level, I'm very disappointed," O'Malley said.
Stewart could not be reached for comment.
According to a statement from the Department of Justice, from 2003 through at least 2008, Stewart did not collect, truthfully account for and pay more than $3,969,337 of Social Security and income taxes from his employees' wages. Stewart is required to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $5,414,647, according to federal prosecutors.
Stewart's sentencing is tentatively scheduled for April 23 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.