Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email


Power Drain

Baltimore's influence in the legislature has been waning for years. Which of our remaining legislators get things done?

Del. Anderson, Del. Branch, Del. Carter, Clippinger (candidate), Del. Conaway Jr., Del. Doory, Del. Glenn
Del. Hammen. Del. Harrison, Del. Haynes, Del. Kirk, Del. Krysiak, Del. Mchale, Del. Mcintosh
Mitchell (candidate), Del. Oaks, Del. Robinson, Del. Rosenberg, Saffery (candidate), Del. Stukes, Del. Tarrant
Torres (candidate), Sen. Conway, Sen. Della, Sen. Gladden, Sen. Jones, Sen. McFadden, Sen. Pugh

By Van Smith | Posted 6/30/2010

Twelve years ago, as voters were preparing to head to the polls in the state elections, City Paper ran an article called "Power Players: Voters are Becoming Increasingly Irrelevant in Choosing Our Political Leaders. Here's a Look at Baltimore's Ruling Class--and How They Stay in Control" (Feature, Aug. 12, 1998). The piece opened with this quote from Italian scholar-politician Gaetano Mosca's 1896 book, The Ruling Class:

The whole history of civilized mankind comes down to a conflict between the tendency of dominant elements to monopolize political power and transmit possession of it by inheritance, and the tendency toward a dislocation of old forces and an insurgence of new forces.

The 1998 election was the last before the legislative district maps were to be redrawn based on the 2000 Census results. The results gave one last fling to the city's "dominant elements" in Annapolis before redistricting in 2002 prompted "a dislocation of old forces"--but without much of an "insurgence of new forces."

The calculus of political map-drawing is simple: The number of residents determines the number of districts, which determines the number of legislators, which determines the number of votes the city has in each chamber of the Maryland General Assembly. In Baltimore's case, the 2002 redistricting was brutally power-draining.

Thanks to its rapid depopulation in the 1990s, and the end of a decade-long power-sharing arrangement in which five of the city's 10 districts crossed into neighboring Baltimore County, the city lost four senate seats and 11 delegate seats in the Maryland General Assembly. The result was a nearly 40 percent decline in votes the city has when laws are being made in Annapolis.

Former state Del. Kenneth Montague (D-43rd District), who represented Baltimore City in the General Assembly before the 2002 redistricting, remembers when the city could form a nearly unstoppable voting bloc on the floor of each chamber. "No matter what the bill was, Baltimore City was pivotal," Montague recalls. "The president [of the Senate] and the speaker [of the House] had to go and see if they could get Baltimore City behind whatever they needed to get done. The city was almost able to dictate how funds were spent in the budget."

Then, the game-changing redistricting happened. Baltimore City's share of General Assembly seats dropped from nearly 21 percent to not quite 13 percent. A dozen years ago, Baltimore City legislators voting in unison could muster more than 40 percent of the votes needed to achieve a majority for or against a bill's passage; today, the best they can manage is about 25 percent. What's more, though city legislators still chair key committees in the legislature and hold leadership positions in both chambers, the loss of city leadership of the three most powerful committees--the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the House Appropriations Committee--fundamentally undermined the city's previously high profile in the Annapolis power game.

"Now," Montague says of Baltimore City's legislators, "they have to be very strategic and make alliances with members from other parts of the state in order to get some of the things the city needs each session--and they are not going to be able to get everything it needs successfully. They have to be very selective in terms of what kinds of projects they put on the table for the city, and how many. And they sometimes might have to support things they don't necessarily like, in order to get a vote in return.

"At the same time," he continues, "Baltimore City is still seen as the cultural and economic center of the state. It might not in fact be true, at least economically, but it is still perceived that way--that the state of Maryland is defined by what happens in Baltimore City. So there's a residual force that Baltimore City legislators have, and there always will be--provided that legislators know how to use it. They need to make the case well and be very persuasive about why Baltimore City matters to the rest of the state."

A key way to measure how persuasive Baltimore City legislators have been in generating the alliances needed to be effective in Annapolis is to look at their law-making success. To be the lead sponsor of a policy bill that makes it through the committee process onto the General Assembly floor, is passed, and then is signed by the governor--that's a fundamental measure of a lawmaker's effectiveness. (Legislators also frequently do "bond bills," which bring state money to projects in their districts; successfully steering bond bills through the process is a form of legislative effectiveness, but, in this assessment, are not counted because they are routine matters that give little insight to a legislator's leadership abilities.)

Overall, in 1998, Baltimore City legislators were the lead sponsors for successful policy bills 115 times, for an average of 2.9 bills per legislator; in 2010, surprisingly, it happened in 89 cases, for a 3.7-bill average per legislator.

The redistricting cycle is coming around again, after the 2010 Census results come in, and this year's state elections are the last before that happens. Whether districts are gained or lost or shifted across jurisdictional lines remains to be seen, but, as in 1998, voters have one last chance before the map changes to give the "dominant elements" another four-year cycle, or to choose instead some "new forces," to use Mosca's terms. In making that decision, the following district-by-district breakdown of the incumbents' law-making prowess may serve as a guide to whether your incumbents are worthy of re-election. (Under each district, senators are listed first, followed by the three delegates in alphabetical order.) Stay tuned for CP's upcoming election coverage to learn about challengers who threw their hats in the ring by the July 6 filing deadline for candidates. (Those who filed early enough for inclusion in this article are listed below.)

40th District

Druid Hill Park is the geographical center of the 40th District, which is the city's only district that does not push up against the city limits. To the west, it includes Lower Park Heights, Ashburton, Mondawmin, Walbrook, Rosemont, Penn North, and Reservoir Hill; and to the east, it includes Hampden-Woodberry, some of Charles Village, Station North, Penn Station, and a piece of Mount Vernon.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh (D), a deputy majority whip who chairs the Senate Finance Committee's Transportation Subcommittee, was the lead sponsor of 16 bills that became law in the 2010 General Assembly session, the highest number of any member of the city's delegation. In most instances, she had co-sponsors from other parts of the state, indicating an ability to build consensus across jurisdictions.

Pugh's bills involved a broad array of policy issues, including: state procurement, education, insurance, mortgages, and mental health. One of her bills--the No Representation Without Population Act, which gained 12 co-sponsors--has direct bearing on the next redistricting effort: prison inmates will be counted as residents of their last address before incarceration, rather than where they are serving their sentences.

State Del. Frank Conaway Jr. (D) introduced 25 bills as lead sponsor during the 2010 session, and none became law. During his four sessions since being elected in 2006, none of Conaway Jr.'s 94 lead-sponsored bills--many of which sought changes at Baltimore City Circuit Court, where his father, Frank Conaway Sr., is the elected clerk--became law.

State Del. Barbara Robinson (D) lead-sponsored two bills that became law. One bill was the companion to Pugh's bill in the Senate to regulate liquor stores' hours of operation in the Park Heights Redevelopment Area. The other amends the liquor laws governing the consumption of alcohol at unlicensed premises.

State Del. Shawn Tarrant (D) was the lead sponsor of two bills that became law. One was the House version of a bill that Pugh ushered through the Senate, prohibiting the gassing-up of illegal dirt bikes at Baltimore City gas stations. The other amended a state health care law to remove medical laboratories as "contracting providers" with HMOs.

As of press time, no challengers had filed to run against Pugh. Democrat Will Hanna Jr. filed to run against the 40th's incumbent delegates in the Sept. 14 primary.

41st District

This Northwest Baltimore district hugs the city's western boundary from Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park north to Fallstaff, then reaches east, along the city's northern boundary, into Mount Washington and Roland Park.

State Sen. Lisa Gladden (D), the vice-chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and majority whip of the Senate, ushered through two lead-sponsored bills into law during the 2010 session. One created a liquor license for her district's 44th Precinct, allowing beer, wine, and liquor tasting. The other allows tenants who are victims of domestic violence to terminate residential leases under certain circumstances.

Of state Del. Jill P. Carter's (D) five lead-sponsored bills that became law, three dealt with estates-and-trusts law, one authorized juvenile courts to order blood-lead-level testing in criminal cases, and the other provided that, in certain circumstances, records of peace-order petitions may be shielded from public disclosure.

State Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D) was not the lead sponsor of a bill that became law during the 2010 session.

State Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D), vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee, saw four of his lead-sponsored bills become law. One prescribed how "writs of actual innocence" may be petitioned for in criminal courts; another tightened up licensing for morticians and funeral directors; a third extended the reporters' shield law to students engaged in journalism; and the last will put up to a referendum on proposed changes in the qualifications of candidates running for Judge of the Orphans Court in Baltimore City, requiring that they be lawyers in good standing.

As of press time, no challengers have filed to run against Gladden in the Senate race. A Republican--Mark Ehrlichmann--has filed for delegate and will face the Democratic slate in the Nov. 2 general election.

43rd District

Shaped like a slice of pie, the 43rd's northern border spans the city line between Charles Street and Harford Road, and tapers down to a point at North Avenue. Its westerly neighborhoods include Homeland, Guilford, and Waverly; on the east, it includes the communities along Herring Run and Chinquapin Run, southward to Lake Montebello.

State Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D), who chairs the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, was the lead sponsor of 15 bills that passed in 2010. Much like Sen. Pugh, Conway pulled together numerous co-sponsors to help usher through much of her legislative agenda. The bills she lead-sponsored dealt with a variety of issues, including--not surprisingly, given the name of the committee she chairs--education, health, and the environment.

State Del. Curt Anderson (D), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's Criminal Justice Subcommittee, was the lead sponsor of four bills that became law this session. Two dealt with the Office of the Public Defender, another increased penalties for assaulting law enforcement officers, and the fourth established the Blue Alert Program, setting up an information-sharing system that kicks in to help find and arrest missing offenders.

State Del. Ann Marie Doory (D), vice-chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently announced that she is not seeking re-election. She did not lead-sponsor a successful bill this year.

State Del. Maggie McIntosh (D), who chairs the House Environmental Matters Committee, is considered one of the more potent forces in the General Assembly. She lead-sponsored three bills that became law this year, including a commercial-driver exception to the ban on cell-phone use while driving and the creation of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program.

As of press time, Democrat Hector Torres has filed to challenge Conway. Two Democrats--Leon Winthly Hector Sr. and Mary Washington--have filed for delegate.

44th District

The 44th District follows the city line from Morrell Park to Frederick Avenue, and heads east across west-side neighborhoods such as Irvington, Sandtown-Winchester, Harlem Park, and Upton before reaching downtown's Lexington Market.

State Sen. Verna L. Jones (D), the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on the Management of Public Funds and the Joint Audit Committee, was the lead sponsor of two bills that became law. One changed permissible investments the State Treasurer can make, and other extended the requirement that local school systems be audited at least every six years.

None of the 44th District delegates--Ruth Kirk (D), deputy majority whip Keith Haynes (D), or Melvin Stukes (D) --were lead sponsors of bills that became law in 2010.

As of press time, no challengers have filed to run against Jones. Democrat Keiffer Mitchell Jr. has filed for delegate.

45th District

This Northeast Baltimore district, which includes neighborhoods such as Hamilton, Lauraville, Cedonia, Gardenville, and Belair-Edison, is bounded by Harford Road on the west, the city's eastern boundary, and, to the south, a meandering line that heads west to Greenmount Cemetery.

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D), Senate President Pro Tem and the Senate chair of the Special Joint Committee on Pensions, was the lead sponsor of five bills that became law this year. His bills changed the way inspections of family day-care homes and child-care centers are conducted; allowed the Baltimore City Public School system to exclude certain school-construction bonds from the limitations on the total amount of bonds outstanding; adjusted retiree benefits under the state pension system; and increased marriage license fees in Baltimore City.

State Del. Talmadge Branch (D), the majority whip, lead-sponsored a bill that established legislative oversight of public-private partnerships proposed by state agencies.

State Del. Cheryl Glenn (D) was the lead sponsor of two bills that passed into law. One was the House companion bill (House Bill 1382) of Gladden's bill (Senate Bill 554) that permits victims of domestic violence to get out of a residential lease under certain circumstances. The other prohibits transfer fees in real-estate deals.

State Del. Hattie N. Harrison (D), who chairs the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, did not lead-sponsor a bill that became law this session.

As of press time, no challengers have filed to run against McFadden. Two Republicans--Rick Saffery and Larry O. Wardlow Jr.--have filed for delegate.

46th District

This is Baltimore's waterfront district, defined primarily by the city's Patapsco River shoreline. Along the city's southern border, it includes Lakeland on the west and Hawkins Point on the east. The core of downtown is in the 46th, as are all of the neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore, from Little Italy across to Highlandtown, and from Orangeville south to St. Helena.

Sen. George W. Della, Jr. (D) was the lead sponsor of two bills that became law this year. One reformed foreclosures and the other changed the liquor laws in Baltimore City to require certain licensees to reimburse the liquor board for costs associated with overseeing the license.

Del. Peter A. Hammen (D), who chairs the House Health and Government Operations Committee, did not lead-sponsor a bill that became law this session.

Del. Carolyn J. Krysiak (D), who chairs the House Facilities Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee's Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee, and who announced recently that she will not seek re-election this year, did not lead-sponsor a bill that became law this session.

Del. Brian K. McHale (D), chair of the House Economic Matters Committee's Public Utilities Work Group, was the lead sponsor of a bill that changed the way credits accrue under the state's net energy metering program.

As of press time, no challengers have filed to run against Della. Democrats Luke Clippinger and Melissa Techentin have filed for delegate.

Related stories

Feature archives

More Stories

Structural Problems (5/26/2010)
Old dealings come back to haunt former state delegate Billy Madonna

Private Jet? No. Lesbian Bondage Show? "Yes We Can," says RNC Chairman (3/29/2010)
Private Jet? No. Lesbian Bondage Show? "Yes We Can," says RNC Chairman

The Maryland Democratic Party Tries to Make a Funny (3/11/2010)

More from Van Smith

Blunderbusted (8/5/2010)
Two Maryland Men indicted in Arizona for illegal machine guns

The Big Hurt (8/4/2010)
Inmate claims gang-tied correctional officer ordered "hit"

Not a Snitch (7/22/2010)
Court filing mistakenly called murdered activist an informant, police say

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter