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Black leaders fear Maryland redistricting may dilute influence

Black leaders in Maryland are worried that a recommended congressional map expected to increase Democratic dominance of state politics could also reduce the influence held by black voters.

Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy, Prince George's Democrat and vice chairman of the state's Legislative Black Caucus, said Wednesday that the caucus' early analysis shows a map proposed Monday by a governor-appointed redistricting panel could result in decreased black presence in the state's two majority-black districts.

Black legislators and state NAACP officials lobbied this summer to maintain or increase black presence in the districts, which are represented by Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Donna F. Edwards.

"Both Districts 4 and 7 appear to be losing African-American voters," said Miss Braveboy, who declined to give exact numbers on the caucus' early analysis but said the districts would maintain a black majority. Districts 4 and 7 are 57- and 56-percent black, according to last year's Census numbers.

Mr. Cummings' 7th District currently covers much of Baltimore and parts of Baltimore and Howard counties but would gain conservative northern Baltimore County voters based on the recommended map.

"We have real concerns with that," said Elbridge James, political action chairman for the NAACP's Maryland State Conference. "Our concerns are that there are Congress persons it could put into harm."

Miss Edwards' 4th District, which covers central Prince George's County and eastern Montgomery County, would also change — losing its entire Montgomery presence and gaining a portion of central Anne Arundel County.

Miss Braveboy said the way in which the panel redrew the 4th District — with swaths of land in each county connected by a narrow strip of land along Prince George's County's northern border — ran counter to black legislators' wishes for a "compactly reformed" district.

"It has a very strange shape," she said. "There are other routes that seemed to be more logical."

The recommended map would move Miss Edwards' Montgomery County constituents into Districts 3 and 8 — represented by Democratic Reps. John P. Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen — as well as Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett's 6th District, which would be heavily made over to give Maryland Democrats a chance at increasing their 6-to-2 advantage in congressional seats.

Black activists have worried that such splitting of voters in majority-black districts could damage their clout within the districts and instead give them a diluted, muted voice across the state.

"African-American voters seem to be spread more across districts solely for the purpose of diluting conservative districts," said Todd Eberly, coordinator of public-policy studies at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

While Miss Braveboy had some concerns about the map, she also praised the redistricting panel for keeping most residents of predominantly-black Prince George's County in their current districts.

She and Mr. James said they hope the state will provide more information in coming days about the expected demographics in the new districts. Residents have until Tuesday to comment on the recommended map.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said Tuesday he will study the map and consider comments before proposing a "substantially similar" map to the General Assembly, which will consider it during its special session starting Oct. 17.

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