City Council President Nick Mosby put forward Monday a counterproposal for rewriting Baltimore’s district lines and set a timeline where City Council would vote on the proposal this week — drawing objection from Mayor Brandon Scott.

Mosby’s map resembles the one introduced by Scott nearly a month ago in some key areas, but aims to resolve complaints raised in recent weeks by numerous community groups about plans to divide their neighborhoods between different districts.

Under the schedule laid out by Mosby, the council plans to hold a public input session on his proposal Wednesday evening before moving rapidly to vote the map through committee Thursday afternoon and take a vote for final passage at a special meeting that night. The mayor’s office pushed back on that quick turnaround, which it called “troubling,” extending a dispute between the two sides over the timeline of this year’s redistricting process.

In some respects, the proposals from the city’s two top elected officials bear much in common, with many of the mayor’s most substantial changes to current lines included in the council president’s map. Among them, 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, would be shifted into new council districts. The footprint of Councilman Zeke Cohen’s 1st District and Eric Costello’s 11th District, which wrap around the Inner Harbor and have the largest populations under current lines, would cede significant territory to surrounding districts in both plans.

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Since Scott introduced his redistricting plan in mid-September, the council has held a series of meetings fielding community input and to discuss possible changes. Until Monday, though, no counterproposal had been introduced.

City Council members did not take action on Mosby’s map Monday. Though most of the 15-member body was present for a brief committee meeting to review the counterproposal, no one asked questions about the plan.

Scott Chief of Staff Marvin James said in a letter Monday afternoon that the mayor’s office did not receive Mosby’s amendments to their plan until 15 minutes before the noon meeting where the proposal was introduced. James also noted that the full council also did not have a chance to review Mosby’s proposal until the Monday meeting and said the administration “is greatly concerned” that the push for a vote will lead to confusion about the plan.

“The new timeline would dramatically decrease the time for community input on the Council President’s amended version of the proposed map,” James wrote. “We believe that 48 hours does not provide the Administration, Council, or constituents enough time to alert the public or review the map.”

The full council must still reach a final decision on new district lines by Nov. 17 — that’s 60 days after the mayor introduced his plan — and that deadline includes voting on any possible veto from the mayor.

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It briefly looked like the City Council might move even more rapidly to approve a counterproposal, a timeline that would have largely bypassed community input. That was due to Mosby’s concern that the mayor might not allow the council enough time to override a possible veto within the 60 day window. But after the two sides seemed to reach a compromise at the end of September, Mosby slowed the process and added two evening meetings for public feedback.

Mosby said Monday he had initially hoped the council could push the counterproposal through and take a final vote that evening at their regularly scheduled meeting, but instead extended the process into later in the week to hear constituent response. While it’s inevitable some people won’t be happy with the results of a redistricting process, Mosby said team made efforts to address all of the complaints raised by community groups about the mayor’s map.

In a letter back to Scott’s office later in the day, Mosby expressed confidence in the transparency of his process and said his main concern is a scenario in which the mayor opts to “run the clock out” by waiting until near the end of the 60-day window to veto. To avoid that outcome following a final vote Thursday, the council president proposed a Nov. 6 deadline for the mayor to act on the amended map, a date he believes would allow enough time for council to consider a possible veto.

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.”

Mosby first took steps to prepare for redistricting in March of 2022, hiring the Virginia-based CensusChannel to help in the mapmaking process for $33,750. Tony Fairfax, CencusChannel’s CEO, said Monday that both plans meet legal requirements, but he gave a leg up to Mosby’s proposal in a few categories he said are best practice. Many neighborhoods would be split between council districts under both plans, but Fairfax’s analysis found that fewer are divided in Mosby’s map.

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In his letter, James also objected to Fairfax’s role in Mosby’s mapmaking, noting that decisions about the plan’s legal sufficiency fall to the city’s law and planning departments, not to the third-party consultant.

Mosby’s map smooths out an irregularly shaped region — referred to as a “dog-leg” at points during the redistricting process — that extends from Councilman James Torrence’s 7th District into Councilman Robert Stokes’ 12th District in the mayor’s plan. That irregularity was singled out by Fairfax as a potential concern for residents and criticized by at least one community representative from Old Goucher.

Notably, Mosby’s map would also do away with some of Scott’s proposed changes to South Baltimore’s 10th District, represented by Councilwoman Phylicia Porter. The council president’s plan keeps part of the Port Covington/Baltimore Peninsula area in Costello’s district — eliminating a portion that had Porter’s district straddle the Patapsco River — and also keeps Camden Yards in Costello’s turf.

Many East Baltimore residents weighed in at community input sessions in support of the mayor’s plan to unify the Highlandtown neighborhood within the 1st District, a move also included in Mosby’s map.

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.

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Mosby said he was unaware of any candidates for City Council who would be cut out of the district they’re campaigning to represent under his map, and said candidate residences were not a factor in his team’s decision making.

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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