Maryland: Third District|
Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D)
Last Updated June 8, 1999
Baltimore, one of America's major cities since the Revolution, in the 1990s suddenly became one of America's star cities. Its Inner Harbor and new ballpark at Camden Yards became national models. Its cuisine--steamed crabs with Chesapeake spices, crab cakes--became known beyond the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay. The central city of Baltimore certainly has its problems--high crime, poor schools--but the greater Baltimore that has grown far beyond the Baltimore City and County lines retains a distinctive character. There is a patina of age, as on its 1829 Washington Monument and the townhouses of Mount Vernon Square, and an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity nurtured by Maryland's founding Catholics in search of liberty; the nation's first Catholic diocese and cathedral were built here when America was overwhelmingly and militantly Protestant. This is a city built solidly on commerce, and one that has always known how to reap its pleasures.
The 3d Congressional District of Maryland is centered on Baltimore and consists of three portions that extend outward like spokes of a wheel from the focus of the Inner Harbor. The three spokes are connected by narrow bridges of land, with boundaries designed to build a black-majority 7th District next door. One spoke extends northeast out into the Polish Highlandtown neighborhood and the mostly white Catholic northeast precincts and close-in suburbs of Overlea and Parkville. Another extends northwest to the heavily Jewish suburbs of Pikesville and Owings Mills, past the array of temples and synagogues on Park Heights Avenue to the open subdivisions where the newest Jewish neighborhoods are being built. A third spoke extends southwest, past the old rowhouse neighborhoods overlooking Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key saw by the dawn's early light the star-spangled banner still waving, and out past Arbutus and Lansdowne into Linthicum and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Elkridge and Columbia in Howard County, at the cusp of the invisible boundary between metro Baltimore and metro Washington. The 3d District is ancestrally Democratic and remains loyal to Democrats in most elections. Pikesville and Columbia are solidly liberal on most issues; the northeast and close-in southeast areas are culturally more conservative.
The congressman from the 3d is Benjamin Cardin, former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and one of the many bright politicos produced by the Jewish neighborhoods of northwest Baltimore. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1966, at 23, the first time he was eligible to run; he became speaker in 1979, at 35; and was easily elected to Congress in 1986 when Barbara Mikulski ran for the Senate. In the House, Cardin got a seat on Ways and Means in his second term and has been a productive and creative legislator. His record is generally liberal, but by no means on the left of the Democratic Party: He supported NAFTA despite union opposition and backed a cap on medical malpractice damages despite opposition by trial lawyers.
''Being a member of Congress is about working with Democrats and Republicans and crafting legislation. From reforming the IRS to protecting pensions, members need to work together,'' Cardin said in 1998. Such has been his record. His bill to restore the tax deduction for health insurance for the self-employed was quickly passed in the Republican Congress in 1995. He was co-sponsor with Rob Portman of the IRS reform law that passed in 1998, the first IRS reform in four decades, which shifts the burden of proof away from the taxpayer and to the government, establishes greater oversight of the agency, and encourages electronic filing and updated technology. He is an expert on 401(k) savings plans and in 1998 with Portman sponsored a bill to allow more contributions to plans and to make it easier to roll them over when taking new jobs. On Social Security he has said, ''Ultimately we should look carefully at the possibility of permitting younger working Americans to direct some part of their FICA taxes into private retirement-saving accounts.''
Cardin has also been a workhorse on health care. He helped draft the Democrats' version of managed care reform in 1998, and is proud of the provision that guarantees patients the right to an external process to appeal adverse health insurance decisions; he was angry when Republicans dropped a provision allowing patients emergency treatment without pre-approval. In 1996 he supported allowing Medicare recipients to voluntarily participate in managed-care options. In 1998, when three of six Maryland Medicare HMOs dropped coverage, he proposed expanding supplemental coverage options, especially for prescription drugs. To support beleaguered teaching hospitals, like Baltimore's Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, he proposed a 1% fee on health insurance premiums to finance medical education.
Now in his fourth decade as a legislator, Cardin takes an institutional focus. In 1998, he and Jim Nussle proposed a budget process reform to encourage accrual accounting, force earlier agreement between the president and Congress, and create an automatic continuing resolution to prevent government shutdowns. He served on the ethics committee for the first half of the 1990s and was ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that painstakingly investigated the charges against Newt Gingrich; in 1998 Maryland legislators named him to head a panel to recommend changes in state ethics laws. He has worked with Republican Wayne Gilchrest on laws to protect key sites on the Chesapeake Bay.
Cardin has been mentioned many times as a candidate for governor, and in 1997 canvassed support. But few politicians were willing to back him publicly, and in September 1997 he announced he wasn't running. He could conceivably be a candidate for senator in 2000 or governor in 2002; but he already can take satisfaction from being a major policy-maker even as a mid-seniority member of the minority party. Cardin has been re-elected easily.
Safe. Cardin is well-entrenched in this heavily Democratic Baltimore-based district. Baltimore's big population loss, however, could mean that this district is altered in 2001 redistricting.
- Pop. 1990: 597,712
- 1.9% rural;
13.9% age 65+;
- 79.7% White,
0.3% Amer. Indian,
1.7% Hispanic origin;
50.8% married couple families;
23.6% married couple fams. w. children;
49.1% college educ.;
median household income: $35,970;
per capita income: $17,779;
median gross rent: $428;
median house value: $91,000.
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