Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 6

February 7 - 13, 2002

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In Election Year ‘The Free State’ Is Bought and Sold

As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?
— Tammany Hall boss William Marcy Tweed, during New York City elections of November 1871

Hey Boss Tweed, here we are 132 years later, and we in Maryland are discovering what it was like to be under your infamous regime.

Now that we have electronics and machines to tally our votes, we have a governor and lieutenant governor who, with their scheming staffs, have the wherewithal to do you one better.

Counting (or discounting) votes is for places like Florida, New York and Chicago, small time stuff — and there’s always the risk one will get caught stuffing a ballot in the wrong box, which can be embarrassing.

Here in Maryland, we have a pair who go about the business of elections in a more sophisticated way. They rig the elections before the ballots are printed, never mind counted. Why risk the chance that, despite tinkering, the count will not be favorable?

Let me tell you this, Boss Tweed: Here in Maryland they don’t deliver coal and turkeys to the poorest of the electorate as you and the other bosses in the big cities did before reformer of reformers Teddy Roosevelt took on municipal corruption so effectively.

Here in Maryland, all that the bosses deliver to the poor electorate are crumbs — and spectators’ seat in the balcony so we can watch without input, influence or even an ear to hear our gripes. Beat that Boss, Tweed!
Shenanigans for Our Times

You see, we have something called redistricting, which is not only legal but should be a positive process in government to see as best possible that districts or other jurisdictions truly represent the number of voters within their boundaries.

Things have changed a lot since your days, Boss Tweed. These days, population concentrations rise and fall faster than the Dow-Jones, and when the census is taken, that thing called redistricting kicks into gear. Then voting districts are changed (theoretically) to better reflect the updated number of voters in each jurisdiction.

A turf war more vicious than on a football field, it’s a politicians delight — but only if you happen to be the politician at the top, as is our governor. Redistricting is pretty much at his whims. If you’re another politician not of his party, or even one of his party with a bit of a philosophical variance, you’re vulnerable.

If you happen to be just a plain voter, you’re nothing more than a captive audience up there in the balcony helplessly watching it all. Maybe you’re wondering why not save the government money and have a coronation here in Maryland instead of an election.

You see, Boss Tweed, in your days there was even honor among politicians and thieves (yes, sometimes it’s different to distinguish one from the other). Today, much of the shenanigans are whipped up right before our eyes.

Kennedy to Come …
Here in Maryland, if the repressive tool of all-mighty redistricting isn’t forceful enough, we have learned that a politician can better ensure her chances at the polls already tainted by redistricting by intimidating those who might lend a helping hand to an opponent.

The her is appropriate, seeing that the dastardly move to eliminate effective competition happens to benefit a woman, the understudy to Gov. Parris Glendening, head honcho in the redistricting scheme. She is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, an offspring of the clan noted for working votes in politics from local to national for 50 years or more.

First, Redistricting 101
We’ll get into her unsavory maneuvers in a moment, Boss Tweed, but first sit back and take in Redistricting 101. Today’s opening lecture centers on the current redistricting theme: How to make elections safe for those on the right side of the political or philosophical fence — and how to make vulnerable those on the wrong side of that fence.

The subtitle is “How one can be equally devious by changing district boundaries to ensure two incumbents of long standing both of whom aren’t looked upon too favorably (and happen to be in the same jurisdiction) face off against each other.” That way, once the voting is over, only one of them will still be around.

It’s easily done. If, say, Connie Morella happens to be a Republican congressman from Maryland District 8, and national politics being what they are, control of Congress in the next election can hinge on the election of a few more Democrats, why not change district lines to include more Democratic and fewer Republican voters within her district?

Maybe it’s not quite ethical, but it’s legal, and if you happen to be governor, newly married, not eligible for re-election and no job like university chancellor in sight a year from now, methinks you would be pretty tempted to try to do whatever possible to deliver a congressman who just might swing the balance in the House of Representatives.
Hey, as you know, Boss, in politics, politicians return favors. The bigger the favor, the bigger the reward. What’s an ex-governor to do, get a ticket to the bricklayers’ union and work like the rest of us?

The 2002 redistricting is in, and it portrays a curious map of Maryland. Talk about partisan politics. No rhyme nor reason other than to deliver votes for favored candidates from city councilman to congressman. It’s payback time, and legally though questionably delivered by drawing lines on a map.

Boss Tweed, no one can tell me why one congressional district can extend from Deep Creek Lake almost a couple of hundred miles east to the Susquehanna River, running through parts of six counties, while five districts can take up part of Baltimore County alone. Relatively small Anne Arundel County is divided into four districts, and Harford County into three.

That, Boss Tweed, is the true meaning of gerrymandering. Hey, you and the others of your time were just amateurs. When the in-fighting starts, some politicians will win, others lose, but the voters will be the biggest losers of all.

Makes me think back. About a year ago when interviewing a prominent Anne Arundel County legislator about a subject sensitive to the governor, I was told his views would have to be off the record, only as background. He didn’t want to openly buck the governor. Seems he already had been reminded by the Gov that redistricting was coming up.

I thought that excuse possibly far-fetched at the time, but no longer do I. So much for gerrymandering, Boss Tweed.

Kennedy Cuts ’Em Off at the Pass
Now get this. We have as mayor of Baltimore a decent and popular chap named Martin O’Malley who’s on the fence about running for governor, a seat coveted by the lieutenant governor who flouts her Kennedy background more than her accomplishments (neither of which appeal to me).

So, what does Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s chief fundraiser do but send out intimidating e-mails urging (warning?) big-money donors not to contribute to a fundraiser for the mayor. That’s pretty blatant, Boss Tweed. It’s a cut-them-off-at-the-pass maneuver, which you can look upon with why-didn’t-I-think-of-that envy.

Just thought you’d like to know how things are going hereabouts in the Free State this election year — sort of a reminder that things are pretty much the same. Just the names are different.

Enough said …

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly