Council President Nick Mosby was a few minutes into routine floor proceedings at Monday night’s Baltimore City Council meeting when a staffer quietly handed him a cellphone.
The Democrat paused to read a message before turning back to face the chambers. “So, at 5:03 p.m.,” he informed the council and a room full of observers, “the mayor’s sent us communication that he ultimately decided to veto the redistricting map.”
The eleventh-hour decision came almost three weeks after the council approved their own version of new council district lines, a version of Scott’s original redistricting proposal with tweaks informed by weeks of community outreach in affected neighborhoods. It confirmed a fear of Mosby’s — that Mayor Brandon Scott would veto the council’s plan at the end of a hard deadline to finalize the redistricting plan.
Monday’s council meeting — the only opportunity the council had to pursue a veto override, according to city charter — ended without an attempt to reverse Scott’s decision. It would have been an uphill battle; Mosby’ map narrowly made it out of the council last month in an 8-6 vote.
“In no stretch of the imagination is this good governance,” Mosby said, vowing to put a charter amendment on next year’s ballot to allow the council additional time to respond to mayoral vetoes in future redistricting proposals.
When it comes to vetoes, Scott is generally restrained
The mayor’s action marks his third veto in three years of tenure.
Scott has shot down two other bills during his administration: a bill that would have loosened the time required for council members to be eligible for pensions and a bill that would have provided more alternatives to security deposits for renters. In both cases, the council did not pursue a veto override, which would have required a three-quarters majority of the council.
Unlike the redistricting map, the two previously vetoed bills did not result in much public discussion between the Scott administration and Mosby and the council. The mayor chose to frame those vetoes more as decisions to safeguard residents than as direct condemnations of the council, pointing to “potential for ethical issues” with the pension bill and calling the security deposit bill a provision that could “potentially hurt the very people this bill seeks to help.”
Scott says council’s map failed to meet standards, while Mosby says the veto is counterproductive
Scott walked a different line with his redistricting veto, saying overtly that the council “did not quite meet the standards” his administration requested “that would have represented a compromise map.” He pointed to requests that each district have similar populations and demographic makeup, as well as “an anchor institution.”
Some neighborhood leaders, including residents in Howard Park, Bolton Hill, Hoes Heights and Morrell Park, complained at a series of town halls that Scott’s proposal separated their communities across multiple council districts. Mosby said the council’s map “made a handful of tweaks based on that community feedback” as opposed to wholesale changes.
Scott pushed back against that assertion in his veto letter, saying that despite the public engagement sessions, “it was unclear how decisions were made based upon the feedback provided by members of the public.”
City law requires that Baltimore officials redraw council districts after every census, which occurs once a decade. Divvying up 14 districts with roughly equal populations amounts to about 42,000 people per district this time around.
Given the number of Baltimoreans who have left the city or moved to different council districts over the last ten years, it was never likely that Scott or Mosby would have proposed to keep council districts exactly the same. According to a redistricting tool created by the Scott administration, ouncil members Zeke Cohen and Eric Costello, who represent South and Southeast Baltimore, respectively, have about 52,000 constituents each, while Councilman John Bullock’s West Baltimore district is home to about 35,000 people.
The differences between the two redistricting proposals are significant for the people who live in the handful of neighborhoods affected, but it’s not clear exactly what distinctions were worth the unusual step of a mayoral veto — and if there will be repercussions for Scott.
Tweaked electorates, new charter amendments down the road
The hard timeline for redistricting was a point of contention between Scott and Mosby from the very start.
The mayor is not required to begin remapping until an election year, but he opted to start the process this fall to give elections officials more time to adjust to the new council districts for the May 14 primary. Once the process began, Scott opened a hard, 60-day deadline to finalize the plan, in accordance with the city charter. That deadline closes Nov. 17, but the charter prohibits the council from calling a special meeting to override a veto, meaning that Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting was the only opportunity to recall the mayor’s decision.
Mosby repeatedly said that the timeline was far too short. On Monday, he introduced a charter amendment that would allow the council to override a veto at a special meeting of the council. He also pledged to introduce more amendments “in the coming days and weeks” to reform the legislative process.
The Baltimore Banner reporter Adam Willis contributed to this report.