The Baltimore City Council approved a plan Thursday to rewrite the city’s political lines, greenlighting a map days after it was first introduced and countering the proposal rolled out by Mayor Brandon Scott just over a month ago.
The map approved by the City Council bears some core aspects in common with Scott’s plan but redraws the boundaries around certain communities in an effort to satisfy concerns that the mayor’s proposal divides some neighborhoods between districts.
In an expedited decision Thursday night, the 15-member council approved the map — an edited version of one introduced earlier in the week by Council President Nick Mosby — in an 8-6 vote with one member absent. A committee hearing of the full body immediately beforehand had been delayed several hours because of eleventh hour tweaks to the council plan.
Approval for the newly introduced map comes amid a flurry of action in Baltimore’s redistricting process in recent weeks, as the City Council has moved rapidly to take action on Scott’s proposal and finalize a map within a tight, 60-day window mandated by city charter. Attorneys with the Law Department told council members last month that the city has a hard deadline to finalize its map, meaning any back-and-forth between council and the mayor has to happen within that window.
With Thursday’s affirmative vote, the map goes to the mayor’s desk, though how quickly he responds may prove decisive.
Mosby has moved aggressively out of concern that Scott could wait until the last minute to veto the council’s plan or allow his own map to go into effect by default at the end of the 60 days. The push to approve an alternative map on a short turnaround this week has drawn objection from Scott’s office, which called the timeline “troubling” in a letter Monday arguing the hurried process doesn’t give the public, city planners or city attorneys adequate time to weigh in.
It wasn’t clear Thursday night how Scott would handle the council’s counterproposal. In a statement after the vote, Scott’s chief of staff, Marvin James, said the mayor looks forward to reviewing the alternate map with the Department of Planning and city attorneys “to determine if the last minute amendments” are in line with city charter and his priority for equitably defined districts.
If Scott does intend to veto, Mosby urged him to make the decision by Oct. 30, the latest date that still allows council enough time to try to override. The council would need a 10-member majority — two more than the majority in Thursday night’s vote — to overturn any veto.
And if the mayor opts to move forward with the council’s version, Mosby asked that the mayor sign the proposal by the body’s meeting on Nov. 6, the last regularly scheduled meeting before the expiration of the 60 days on Nov. 17. Otherwise, Scott’s plan will automatically take effect.
Mosby said after Thursday night’s vote that the council made “substantive” but “minimal” changes to the mayor’s plan, prioritizing community concerns about splitting their neighborhoods. The council president said he hopes the mayor will consider that input when deciding whether to veto.
The key differences between the council and mayor’s proposals have to do with the boundary lines around some communities near the borders of current districts. Over the course of three town halls in recent weeks, representatives from neighborhoods such as Bolton Hill, Hoes Heights, Morrell Park and Howard Park spoke against the mayor’s proposal because it would split their communities into multiple districts. At an input session Tuesday night after the introduction of Mosby’s map, many neighborhoods leaders appealed to the council to keep their neighborhoods unified by supporting the council president’s plan over the mayor’s.
Notable differences between the City Council’s plan approved Thursday and Scott’s proposal include:
- The council’s map would retain the Clifton Park area within the 14th District, represented by Councilwoman Odette Ramos. Numerous representatives from the Northeast Baltimore’s Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello community spoke in town halls against the mayor’s plan to remove the 260-acre park, as well as part of the Darley Park neighborhood, from the 14th District and enfold them into the 12th District, represented by Councilman Robert Stokes.
- The council plan also smooths out an area of the mayor’s map that would divide the Bolton Hill area, currently represented by Councilman Eric Costello, between three different representatives — a proposal that was repeatedly criticized by neighborhood leaders during town halls. Under the council’s version, that community would still change representation, but the whole area would be enveloped into Councilman James Torrence’s 7th District, rather than multiple districts.
- A portion of the Upper Fells Point neighborhood, which would join Councilman Antonio Glover’s 13th District under the mayor’s plan, would remain in Cohen’s 1st District under the council proposal.
- In West Baltimore, where the city has seen some of its most dramatic population declines over the last decade, the Easterwood and Sandtown-Winchester neighborhoods would move to the 9th District, represented by Councilman John Bullock. The mayor’s plan would have kept those neighborhoods within Torrence’s territory.
- The Port Covington/Baltimore Peninsula area would remain wholly within Costello’s 11th District under the council’s plan, eliminating lines in the mayor’s map that had Councilwoman Phylicia Porter’s 10th District straddling the Patapsco River.
- Camden Yards, which would be enveloped into Porter’s district under the mayor’s plan, remains on Costello’s turf in the council’s version.
Other aspects of the competing maps are the same. Both plans would see council representation change for some neighborhoods in Central Baltimore — such as Little Italy, Harbor East and Bolton Hill — where residents have flocked in the last decade even as the city’s overall population has declined. The footprint of Costello’s 11th District and Zeke Cohen’s 1st District, which wrap around the Inner Harbor and have the largest populations under current lines, would cede significant territory under both plans.
The council map also mirrors the mayor’s proposal to unify East Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood within District 1, another point supported by many residents during town halls in recent weeks, while a section north of Patterson Park would flip from Cohen’s district to Glover’s in both plans.
Councilman Zeke Cohen, who voted against Mosby’s map Thursday and is also campaigning for the council president seat, voiced frustration with the hurried process in a post on X, formerly Twitter, after the vote.
“Residents throughout my district have expressed confusion and frustration with both the Mayor and Council President’s maps and the disjointed process,” he said. “We also need to start earlier and give communities more than 60 days to voice their views. Baltimore deserves better.”
The 1st District councilman said he plans to introduce amendments to the city charter that would establish an independent redistricting commission, tasking nonelected officials with drafting the initial map. Mosby, too, has said in recent weeks that he thinks charter changes are needed to allow for more public input and to prevent the mayor from “running the clock out” with a late-stage veto.
Alongside Cohen, council members Danielle McCray, Ryan Dorsey, Torrence, Bullock and Porter voted against the council president’s map. Councilman Kristerfer Burnett was absent.
Baltimore’s redistricting process, which happens after the census every 10 years, seeks to divide city voters into 14 districts of roughly equal populations — this time aiming for about 42,000 residents per district. Mapmakers are also legally required to draw districts that are “contiguous” and “compact.”
It briefly looked like the council would move even more rapidly in order to allow time to consider a potential veto, a process that would have largely bypassed community input on the new district lines. But after the mayor’s office and council president seemed to reach a compromise at the end of September, Mosby slowed the process and added a series of evening meetings for public feedback.
The new district lines will play a consequential role in Baltimore’s primary elections in May, when each of the City Council’s 15 seats — all held by Democrats — is on the ballot. For the last two decades, the Baltimore City Council has had 14 members elected by their local districts. The council president is decided in a citywide election.