Mayor Brandon Scott and City Council President Nick Mosby clashed repeatedly last fall over plans to redraw Baltimore’s legislative lines — a dispute that culminated in November with a last-minute veto by the mayor that deprived council members of any chance to respond.
Now, Mosby wants to change the once-a-decade redistricting process to bar future mayors from overriding the council-approved map.
Among other key reforms, the council president’s proposed charter amendment, introduced at Monday’s City Council meeting, aims to provide more time for the council to make changes and to ensure a community voice in the mapmaking process by mandating public input sessions.
The redistricting process was “problematic from the beginning,” Mosby told reporters Monday. The council president said it’s important that Baltimore residents and voters have the “biggest say” in the redistricting process, but thanks to Scott’s 11th-hour veto, this time around “the administration only had the say.”
The council president’s measure still faces several hurdles before it can appear on November’s general election ballot. The proposed charter amendment will need approval before the full council. After that, Scott could sign or veto the proposal, sending it back to the council for a chance to override the mayor. But if the proposal does make it onto the November ballot, its chances of passing are high: Baltimore voters have historically tended to approve ballot measures.
Mosby’s proposal would require future mayors to hold an unspecified number of public input sessions on draft versions of their map before formally introducing it to the council. That didn’t happen before Scott introduced his map in September. And though Mosby and City Council held hours of input sessions after receiving the mayor’s proposal and before taking a vote on their own edits a month later, Scott’s decision to veto at the last moment cemented his own proposal into law.
In an effort to prevent similar outcomes, Mosby’s proposal would also bar future mayors from vetoing the council’s final map, ensuring the legislative body gets the final word on district lines. It would also do away with a short, 60-day timeline the charter imposes on the city’s redistricting process.
The timing of last year’s redistricting process was a point of contention between Mosby and Scott from the start.
Attorneys with the law department argued that the 60-day window to finalize legislative lines included any back-and-forth between the mayor and council, so Mosby moved aggressively to get a plan to the Scott’s desk and avoid the mayor “running the clock out” on the process. Though the two sides seemed to find a compromise on that deadline in October, the last-minute timing of Scott’s veto ultimately left the council with no opportunity to respond.
A spokesperson for Scott did not respond Monday afternoon to a request for comment on Mosby’s proposal. The mayor said at the time of his veto that the council’s map fell short of his standards for balancing district populations and ensuring an equitable distribution of resources and institutions.
Baltimore is required to redraw its district lines ever 10 years, after the release of new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The process in Baltimore this time kicked off later than for other jurisdictions around Maryland, many of which finalized their new maps in 2022.
Matthew Crenson, a professor or urban government at Johns Hopkins University, said opening up the redistricting process to more public input would be a “healthy” reform, noting that current rules effectively allow the mayor to make “unilateral” changes that he could use as a way to pick off members he doesn’t want on the council. The Johns Hopkins Professor, who wrote the 2017 book “Baltimore: A Political History,” also said that, to his knowledge, the redistricting process in Baltimore has lacked public input for some time.
But Crenson also questioned the provision barring the mayor from vetoing council changes. Such an adjustment, he said, would make an exception from the charter rules that apply to other city legislation and impose a “rigidity” on the mayor’s role that wouldn’t apply to the City Council.
“The mayor ought to have some sort of power to respond,” said Crenson.
In addition to the public input and veto changes, Mosby’s proposal would move the deadline for Baltimore to begin its redistricting process to the July following the release of the decennial census, ensuring more cushion between the mapmaking process and an election. Under current charter requirements, the mayor has until the February before a primary to introduce their map, much later than many other jurisdictions.
Asked whether axing the mayor’s veto power might dissuade Scott from signing his proposal, Mosby argued that many jurisdictions give their legislative bodies the final word in the redistricting process — under Maryland law, for example, the governor similarly does not have power to veto state legislative district maps passed by the General Assembly.
“It’s not like this is a new phenomenon,” said Mosby. When it comes to public say in the redistricting process, he said, Baltimore is “really behind the eight ball in comparison to other cities and to our state.”