- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

BALTIMORE State Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV, a black Baltimore lawmaker who is so displeased with a redistricting plan proposed by Democrats that he is threatening to leave the party, met yesterday with leading state Republicans.

Mr. Mitchell says he will leave the Democratic Party if changes are not made in the plan, which would pit him against a white colleague. The lawmaker said he plans to announce his decision Tuesday, the day before the 2002 General Assembly convenes.

Mr. Mitchell, whose family has long been prominent in Democratic politics, has not indicated whether he would join the Republican Party or become an independent if he leaves.

"Everything is still on the table," Mr. Mitchell said.

State Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele called yesterday's meeting a "good, frank conversation" but said no commitments were made.

"I wanted to be proactive and let him know both my arms are extended on behalf of the party," said Mr. Steele, adding that if Mr. Mitchell ran for office as a Republican, he would have the full support of the party.

As the redistricting plan now stands, Mr. Mitchell's district would be 53 percent black, but he would be in the same new district as fellow Sen. George Della, a white Democrat. Three black delegates in Mr. Mitchell's current district also would be blocked into a subdistrict that would elect only one House member.

Mr. Mitchell said that plan shows that the Democratic Party is taking for granted the loyalty of its black constituency. He also called the plan "insulting" because it jeopardizes a historically black district that he says was created to empower black voters and produced the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and current NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, as well as his own family.

"To show disrespect to that with this map is why I'm doing what I'm doing," Mr. Mitchell said.

Backers of the plan say it reflects the demographic realities revealed in the 2000 Census: Population in the Baltimore area is decreasing while it is growing in the D.C. suburbs.

Prince George's County would gain a majority-black district under the plan, which was prepared by the Governor's Advisory Commission on Redistricting.

Redistricting is conducted every 10 years based on census data. The new plan will be used to choose the 188 members of the Senate and House of Delegates at elections in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said he had about 30 meetings with various lawmakers seeking changes in the plan. Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, said the governor will take all those suggestions into consideration and look at alternatives.

As to Mr. Mitchell's meeting with Republicans, Mr. Morrill said, "I don't know that there's much to comment on there."

Beyond redistricting, Mr. Mitchell and the Republicans insist they have common ground on many issues.

"In my opinion, even before today, there's a lot more that unites us than divides us," said House Minority Whip James Ports, Baltimore County Republican. "We're thrilled to have him even looking our way."

The meeting, at the posh Engineer's Club in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood, also was attended by Minority Leader Alfred Redmer and Sen. Andy Harris, both of Baltimore County.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's County Democrat, would not comment directly on yesterday's meeting.

"I think if Democrats and Republicans could meet together more often our state and nation would be better off," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller said he planned to meet with Mr. Mitchell before Tuesday.

Mr. Glendening's office would be responsible for any changes to the redistricting plan as it stands, said Mr. Miller, who was a member of the redistricting commission.

However, Mr. Miller said he expected any alterations at this point to be "minimal."

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