Baltimore’s political map could get a significant overhaul ahead of next year’s City Council elections under a proposal submitted Monday by Mayor Brandon Scott.

Under the mayor’s proposed map, two council districts whose populations swelled in recent years, Councilman Zeke Cohen’s 1st District and Councilman Eric Costello’s 11th District, would see their territory diminished. Currently, Cohen’s district stretches from the southeastern border of Baltimore into Little Italy at the edge of the Inner Harbor, while Costello’s encompasses the opposite side of the water, wrapping from Locust Point around the harbor to include Federal Hill, downtown and Mount Vernon.

Scott’s proposed map would cede Little Italy and Harbor East from Cohen’s district to the 12th District, represented by Councilman Robert Stokes, while some of the northernmost neighborhoods of the district would go to the 2nd and 13th districts, currently represented by Danielle McCray and Antonio Glover, respectively. Parts of Bolton Hill, Madison Park and Druid Heights currently represented by Costello, meanwhile, would mostly get picked up by Councilman James Torrence of the 7th District.

In a text message responding to the mayor’s plan, Costello said he loves the 11th District and looks forward to reviewing proposals to make the best decision for his constituents.

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“The current district is one of the few that has grown in population so it is inevitable that it has to lose some precincts in order to comply with the charter requirements for redistricting,” he said. “I would prefer not to lose a single precinct, but that’s not how this process works.”

Cohen did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

The city charter requires Baltimore leaders to redraw legislative lines after each census, which happens every 10 years, to set the boundaries determining residents’ council representation. The mapping process seeks to divide city voters into 14 distinct districts of roughly even populations — this time aiming for close to 42,000 residents per district. Given the substantial population flux in Baltimore over the last decade, some residents can expect to wind up in new districts.

According to a redistricting tool utilized by the mayor’s office, both Cohen and Costello’s district encompass about 52,000 residents each under current lines, while Councilman John Bullock’s in West Baltimore includes about 35,000 people, the lowest of any on the present map.

Scott’s proposed district map was formally introduced to City Council Monday night. In a press release announcing the plan, the mayor’s office said the team worked to preserve existing boundaries as much as possible while complying with legal responsibilities to balance population levels and draw contiguous and compact districts.

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“These changes are a reflection of our changing city, taking into account new population centers and communities experiencing growth,” Scott said in the statement. “It is my hope that the new map serves our city well for years to come.”

Though the charter doesn’t require the mayor to submit his proposed district lines until Feb. 1 of a municipal election year, Scott’s chief of staff Marvin James said the office wanted to get its plan to council well in advance to avoid an unnecessary time crunch. In deep blue Baltimore City, the Democratic primary on May 14 will effectively decide the city’s elected leadership.

The council has 60 days to review the mayor’s plan, adopt it, amend it or submit an alternative, according to the charter. If the council does not adopt a counter-plan within that 60 day window, the charter states, the mayor’s proposal automatically goes into effect.

While Cohen and Costello would both lose portions of their districts under the mayor’s plan, others welcomed their possible gains.

“I like it, man. Did you see my district?” Stokes said. In addition to Little Italy and the high-end Harbor East, Stokes would pick up a large swath of Darley Park and Clifton Park in Northeast Baltimore. The alignment gives him a nice mix of residential and business districts, he said, adding that he has established relationships in Little Italy, Harbor East and Darley Park.

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Bullock of West Baltimore would also see his district expand, stretching along parts of the Eutaw Place and into a swath of Councilwoman Phylicia Porter’s district in South Baltimore. He said after Monday’s council meeting that the growth of his territory didn’t come as a surprise given the vacancy and population loss West Baltimore has shouldered and said he looks forward to representing a new part of the city.

Porter’s District 10 would see some growth elsewhere, though, picking up a portion of South Baltimore west of the Port Covington/Baltimore Peninsula area as well as Camden Yards, all currently represented by Costello.

Council President Nick Mosby took steps to prepare for the mayor’s draft over a year ago, receiving spending board approval to hire an outside consultant to assist the mapmaking process in March of 2022, according to Baltimore Sun reporting at the time. The council contracted with the Virginia-based CensusChannel for $33,750, according to the contract submitted before the Board of Estimates.

The new district lines will play a consequential role in next year’s council elections, when each of the 15 representatives, all Democrats, is up for reelection. For the last 20 years, Baltimore City Council has had 14 members elected by their local districts. The council president is decided in a citywide election.

The redistricting process also comes as Baltimore continued to suffer heavy losses in its population over the last decade, including an exodus of tens of thousands of Black residents in recent years. The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau estimate 570,000 residents in Baltimore, a decline of more than 8% from the federal estimate in 2010. A Baltimore Banner analysis has found that Black residents, who still account for the majority of the city’s population, have been leaving more rapidly than white residents, while growth among the city’s Hispanic, Asian and multiracial populations have partly offset drops in the Black and white communities.

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James, the mayor’s chief of staff, said at a legislative lunch Monday that members of the council have been briefed on the proposed map already and had a chance to raise any concerns.

One sitting council member, Kristerfer Burnett of West Baltimore’s District 8, has announced that he will not seek reelection next year.

Meanwhile, Cohen, whose Southeast Baltimore district would shrink under the mayor’s proposed plan, is challenging Mosby for the at-large council president seat.

Voters will also have the chance next year to decide whether to give Scott a second term in City Hall. The Democrat is being challenged by former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who, after months of public consideration, announced her campaign earlier this month.

adam.willis@thebaltimorebanner.com

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government. 

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