While understanding the logic behind Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) plan to create a majority Hispanic subdistrict in District 47, Prince George’s County officials say the gesture was not needed and could further racial tension on a “symbolic gesture.”
District 47B in northwestern Prince George’s would be part of the legislative district changes that are adjusted every decade based on census data and determine what areas senators and delegates will represent in the Maryland General Assembly.
Under the new plan, District 47A will include Bladensburg, Brentwood, Cheverly, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, Landover, Landover Hills, Mount Rainier and North Brentwood. District 47B will include Adelphi, Chillum and Langley Park.
The new district would be 63 percent Hispanic, the first of its kind in the state. The proposal will be voted on at the end of the General Assembly session, officials said.
Del. Doyle Niemann (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier said O’Malley’s plan missed the mark because the district has always had diverse representation and he is concerned that singling out the Hispanic population could needlessly fuel the antagonism between different members of the community.
“You can see the tension that arises in some community meetings as people feel the pressure of change and the cultural divide,” Niemann said. “[The redistricting] might be justified when you have a long history of discrimination but in our district that’s never been the case.”
Since its creation in 2003, District 47 has had Hispanic representation; now-state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly served as a delegate until 2010 when he was elected senator.
“The reason we were told it was done was to create a majority Latino district, but given the history of District 47 from the time it’s been created, there’s always been a Latino delegate and now senator without a special district carved out,” said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly. “It seems like a symbolic statement that really wasn’t necessary. “
Ivey, who said she plans to run for re-election in 2014, said she also had some concern that the new district could disturb the chemistry of the District 47 legislation because the three incumbents — Ivey, Niemann and Michael Summers (D) of Cheverly — will have to compete against one another for the two seats in District 47A.
Kim Propeack, political director of Langley Park-based CASA de Maryland, the state’s largest Hispanic rights and service organization, said the new district represents a nice challenge to energize Hispanic voters.
In the 2010 county elections, there were 20,213 registered Latino voters, Propeack said. The county has about 518,000 registered voters.
“Redistricting is about creating communities of interest to vote,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that someone who is African-American or white isn’t the best representative and won’t get voted.”
According to the 2010 census, Prince George’s County has 47,798 Hispanic residents.
Marc Dickson, who lives on the Chillum/Hyattsville border that would be included in the new district, said he is concerned that issues from non-Latinos might not be addressed.
“That’s just the way it works. Once certain people gain a foothold they look out for each other, and I’m sure some blacks do it as well,” said Dickson, who is African-American. “I’m concerned that the quality of life would be drained from neighborhoods in the district if a blind eye was turned to concerns of everyone in the district.”
Prince George’s County Councilman Will Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville, who is considering running for the new seat because he is term-limited, said the district’s representative has to address the issues of all residents, not one particular group.
“A movie theater is something everyone can benefit from, so you work on that to make sure everyone benefits from it, then you can attract retail specific to the diversity of the community, so you lobby for the Latino restaurant, you lobby for the soul food restaurant,” said Campos, who questioned the need for the change considering the district’s current representation. “The key is making sure everyone feels included and not left out. It just happens to be I’m Latino, and yes we’ll stand up for Latino rights just like I would for anyone else.”
Ramirez said he would have preferred the district remain a whole with three delegates representing the entire area, but he does not anticipate major changes.
“It’s still trying to do the best that I can for everybody and making sure we get the resources for the district that will benefit everyone,” said Ramirez, who added he plans to seek re-election. “You can’t be so narrow-minded to think you can advocate for just one group. You have to be inclusive and that’s the great thing about Prince George’s County. It’s diverse and inclusive.”
Ramirez said the needs of the district could fluctuate by 2014, but the main concerns for all residents are typically better schools, services and use of their tax dollars.
“We have to be careful not to pit one group against another,” he said. “The most important thing is to listen to the residents and do what we can to represent all of them.”