Bigger, better council

April 02, 1991

In Baltimore County the issue of race has been, for the most part, taboo. But the 1990 Census has added significant weight to the already strong argument for making the political system more inclusive: The newest data show that countywide the number of blacks increased by 60 percent over the last decade, which accounts for virtually all of the county's growth.

Under the current configuration of councilmanic districts, the 2nd District is now over 40 percent black; the 1st District is over 14 percent black in its makeup, and blacks comprise more than 12 percent of the population overall. Yet no blacks serve on the County Council and, perhaps as a corollary, there are no black department heads, either. Moreover, Harold Gordon's defeat in last fall's council primary made plain that there is little chance of a black candidate's winning a seat on the council -- even in the Randallstown-Liberty Road area where the bulk of growth in the black population has occurred -- unless district lines are redrawn.

That is the intention of a citizens coalition which is trying to gather 10,000 signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot in November to increase the number of districts from seven to either nine or 11. The change would, of course, offer the chance for more diverse representation. But it would also reduce the high ratio of one council member for every 99,000 citizens -- a rate more than twice that of Baltimore City's and more than three times that of neighboring Harford County.

The census data mandates some changes anyway. Properlredrawn, new districts need not trespass on current neighborhood identities and affiliations. But the very existence of smaller districts, more reflective of and responsive to their constituencies, would go a long way toward protecting the public trust and confidence on which local government depends.

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