SAVAGE – The population center of Maryland continued to inch south and west in 2000, continuing a century-long shift of people and political power away from Baltimore and toward the Washington suburbs.
The 2000 Census put the population center — the point at which an equal number of people live north and south, east and west — in a Howard county industrial park, but officials marked the spot Tuesday about a mile away in historic Savage.
Officials decided to place a monument in a public place, rather than the actual spot in the privately owned Baltimore-Washington Industrial Park, so Marylanders could visit it.
“We’re proud to be the first state to officially mark the center of population, and we’re certainly proud that the center is here in Howard County,” said Howard County Executive James Robey at a ceremony unveiling the markers in front of a playground at Savage Park.
The new center — at 39 degrees 8 minutes 44 seconds north latitude and 76 degrees 47 minutes 51 seconds west longitude — is about six miles southwest of the center of population at the turn of the last century, which was near Elkridge.
Political analysts say the movement continues a shift of political power from Baltimore toward Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“The political clout of the suburbs is rising and the clout of Baltimore is to some degree declining,” said Paul S. Herrnson, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said the “center of the political universe has moved.”
“It has not made them happy in Baltimore to see that, but that’s the new reality we all have to deal with,” Steele said. “Taking advantage of that is going to be interesting for the political parties.”
Experts said the shift affects everything from grant formulas to political strategy in the State House. But its greatest effect will be on redistricting, as incumbents scramble to keep their seats.
“The congressional map is going to look like an ink-blot test,” said Frank Defilippo, a political analyst for the Baltimore Business Journal and WBAL radio.
Despite the population shifts, some analysts said the Washington suburbs, especially Montgomery County, are not as politically powerful as they should be.
“Given its wealth and its position as the economic engine of the state, you’d think Montgomery County would dominate state politics, but it’s still a minor player,” said Blair Lee, a political commentator and Montgomery Journal columnist.
“It’s come a long way but it hasn’t ascended to its rightful position,” he said.
He said that is because Baltimore’s politicians continue to beat Montgomery County’s at playing politics. “They are the ward heelers and we are the Eagle Scouts,” Lee said.
Still, he said, political power must eventually follow population growth.
“The die is cast,” he said. “Little by little the suburbs ascend and the city declines.”