Larger county council sought Adding districts in Baltimore County would increase chance for a black to be elected.

March 27, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Hoping to elect a black to the Baltimore County Council, a coalition of black groups plans a petition drive to try to increase the number of councilmanic districts before the 1994 elections.

Harold G. Gordon, who ran unsuccessfully for the council from the Randallstown-Pikesville district, which includes much of the county's growing black population, said the petition drive will start this summer. The goal is to gather 10,000 signatures in time to place a charter amendment before voters in November 1992.

Gordon, 45, lost by a 2-1 margin to incumbent Councilman Melvin Mintz, D-2nd, in last fall's Democratic primary. Gordon is now chairman of a new Liberty Road area group called the Coalition of African-American Organizations.

The council currently has seven members, each elected from one of the seven districts. Black politicians say nine or 11 smaller districts would give them a better chance to concentrate their votes and elect black council members. In the current seven-district setup, even the district with the largest black population, around Randallstown, is only 40 percent black. That's substantial but not necessarily enough to carry an election, black leaders say.

Countywide, the number of blacks increased by 60 percent between 1980 and 1990, from 54,000 to 85,000. The increase in the black population accounted for virtually all of the county's 5 percent growth during the 1980s.

Ideally, each of the seven existing districts would have almost 99,000 residents once boundaries are redrawn to reflect

population changes identified by the 1990 Census.

An Evening Sun computer analysis of the county's population shows that the current 2nd District is now 40 percent black. The analysis shows 39,321 blacks in the district and 56,492 whites.

In a nine- or 11-district setup, with either 63,000 or 77,000 people per district, a minority candidate would have a better chance.

New census figures also show that the north county's 3rd District, the county's largest, has grown to 110,000 people, a jump of 13,000 in 10 years. At the other extreme, Dundalk's 7th District has dropped to 85,000, losing 7,000 people.

Towson's 4th District, with 90,000, has also lost population, while Catonsville's 1st and Essex's 5th are over the county average, with 105,000 each. The council is to rearrange the district lines based on the new census figures starting in June.

Although their goals differ from the coalition of community groups, other activists, including current and former council members, have also advocated expanding the number of councilmanic districts. The county has the highest ratio of population to council members in the area.

Baltimore, with only 45,000 more people than the county's 692,000 and a much smaller land area, has 18 City Council members in six districts. This works out to about 41,000 residents per council member. In the other metropolitan counties, the ratio ranges from 37,000 residents per council member in Howard to 61,000 in Anne Arundel.

Ella White Campbell, an unsuccessful candidate for the House of Delegates from the 11th Legislative District, which includes the Liberty Road area, said she doesn't see the issue in terms of race, despite being black herself in a county with no black elected officials.

The Liberty Road area, which includes Randallstown, has a substantial black population.

Campbell came in fourth, a distant 5,000 votes behind Del. Leon Albin, in the 1988 Democratic primary. She said, however, that the council needs to enlarge, and that more districts are needed both to cut the workload on members and to reduce the number of people in each councilmanic district.

In 1989, when an appointed county charter review commission reviewed the size of the council, it decided not to recommend more districts, but more staff for council members instead. Slightly smaller districts and more council members, the commission reasoned, would not necessarily reduce the workload.

Former council members Ronald B. Hickernell and Norman W. Lauenstein, both defeated in the 1990 elections, recommended increasing the size of the council to eight, with an elected chairman.

Councilman Vince Gardina, D-5th, Lauenstein's replacement, said there should either be more districts or the job should be made full-time because of the heavy workload and the diverse population.

Berchie L. Manley, D-1st, Hickernell's replacement, said the need for more districts may be several years away, when planned growth areas gain more population.

Mintz, now in his second four-year term, said he opposes any expansion of councilmanic districts because increasing the number of members would merely make passage of legislation that much more difficult.

"Seven is the best to work with," he said. "It's easier to talk to a smaller group."

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