Mayor Brandon Scott vetoed City Council President Nick Mosby’s plan to rewrite Baltimore district lines Monday, informing the council of his decision just minutes before the council’s last chance to override the decision and effectively ensuring that his own map will take effect.
Scott’s decision scraps many adjustments Mosby and council members had made to answer community concerns about Scott’s version, but the mayor said in a letter announcing the veto that the council’s map fell short of his standards for balancing district populations and ensuring an equitable distribution of resources and institutions.
Mosby admonished the mayor for the eleventh hour decision Monday night, informing his colleagues at the council meeting that he had learned of the veto only minutes earlier. The council did not attempt to override the decision, and Monday’s meeting represented the last and only chance council would have had to consider a veto from the mayor.
“In no stretch of the imagination is this good governance,” Mosby told the council, pointing to the hours of public testimony that went into drafting the proposal approved by the council. “This is not the way government should operate. Period.”
An edited version of Mosby’s map narrowly cleared the council last month in an 8-6 vote, with one member absent. To override the mayor’s decision, the council would have needed a two-thirds majority, or two votes more than Mosby’s map had received.
Scott said in a statement after the meeting that the two sides failed to reach a compromise after multiple meetings on the city’s plan. He argued that the council president’s map “did not equalize population nearly enough” — one of three legal pillars of the redistricting process. The council’s version also fell short of his own priorities to balance districts with influential “anchor” institutions, he added, and failed to “anticipate our city’s future needs.”
“For these reasons, and due to an unwillingness to collaborate on a compromise map as suggested by my team, my administration was left with no choice but to make the difficult decision to reject this proposal,” Scott said.
Until Monday night, much of the public disagreement between Scott and Mosby had focused less on the precise lines of their competing maps and more on the process’s short timeline — circumstances forced on the council by terms of the city charter, which Mosby hopes to change.
Under charter, the city faces a hard, 60-day deadline to finalize its redistricting plan — a time frame attorneys with the Law Department told Mosby includes any back-and-forth between the mayor and council. That 60-day window closes Nov. 17, but because charter also bars council from calling a special meeting to override a veto, Mosby requested a decision by Nov. 6, the last regularly scheduled meeting before the charter deadline.
With no override vote taken Monday night, Mosby said after the meeting that he’s unaware of any alternative pathways for his map.
The timetable of the process has been a point of conflict between the two sides from the start. But in late September, Mosby and Scott seemed to reach a compromise in which the mayor said he believed the council should have the opportunity to respond if he vetoed their district map. Mosby opted to take additional time to consider public input, expressing his hope that Scott would act in “good faith” by allowing council the chance to respond if he didn’t intend to sign their version.
Still, Mosby moved aggressively to get his plan to the mayor’s desk after putting forward a counterproposal, holding a final vote just days after introducing his plan. That timeline drew objection from Scott’s office, which called it “troubling” and argued the quick turnaround didn’t give the public, city planners or city attorneys adequate time to weigh in.
In his letter announcing the veto Monday night, Scott said his staff had proposed a series of changes to Mosby’s proposal that represented a “compromise map.” Among them, the mayor’s team wanted to increase the population of Councilman Ryan Dorsey’s District 3, which fell below 5% of the median population in the council president’s map.
Scott also wanted to see Camden Yards and part of the Port Covington/Baltimore Peninsula area folded into Councilwoman Phylicia Porter’s 10th District — providing “anchor” institutions to the South Baltimore district — while Mosby’s plan had both areas remaining on Councilman Eric Costello’s turf.
The mayor also pushed for West Baltimore’s Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital to be included in Councilman John Bullock’s 9th District.
The map Scott introduced in mid-September, though, leaves unaddressed many of the concerns raised to the council.
Prior to the introduction of Scott’s proposal, the city had held no public input sessions to workshop the new districts. Over a series of meetings and town halls convened by the council, many neighborhood leaders criticized the mayor’s proposal for splitting their communities between two or more districts — concerns Mosby and the council worked to address in the version they approved.
The key differences between the council and mayor’s proposals have to do with the boundary lines around some communities near the edges of current districts. Over the course of three town halls last month, representatives from some neighborhoods, including Bolton Hill, Hoes Heights, Morrell Park and Howard Park, spoke against Scott’s plan because it would split their communities into multiple districts. At an input session the 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.
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.
A proposal to unify East Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood within District 1, another point supported by many residents in the town halls, is mirrored in both maps, as is a plan to flip a section north of Patterson Park from Cohen’s district to Councilman Antonio Glover’s district.
Mosby said after Monday night’s decision that he met with the mayor’s team late that afternoon and discussed a possible, rare maneuver in which the council would recall its approved plan, make edits and pass the compromise version. The council president said he thought that meeting had ended with an understanding that he was open to the recall option, leaving him surprised by the mayor’s veto message.
At the same council meeting, Mosby introduced a charter amendment aimed at ensuring that the council has an opportunity to consider any veto from the mayor during future redistricting processes. That proposal still requires approval by the full council before going before city voters.
“I think the big thing is, we need to clean up the rules of the charter,” Mosby said after the meeting. “We’ve said that from the beginning. This is not the type of process that we should be proud of.”