Ecker Plan Could Give Gop Edge

Redistricting Gets Cool Reception From Council

May 26, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, rebuffed in his suggestion that he and the County Council work together on a redistricting plan, has developed a plan on his own that if adopted could put three Republicans on the five-member council in 1994.

The council has a 3-2 Democratic majority.

Four of the current council districts remain virtually intact under the plan Ecker sent the council last week. The major change is in the 1st District, where Democrat Shane Pendergrass would lose precincts that supported her in the last election and gain precincts that voted Republican.

The plan is unlikely to receive more than a cursory reading from the Democratically controlled council. Even 5th District Republican Charles C. Feaga called it "just a beginning."

Council chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, simply accepted the plan as "input."

Ecker had suggested March 4 that he and the council work together on redistricting, but Gray told him the council preferred to go italone. Gray said at the time he would be glad to receive Ecker's input, however.

Gray said the council will meet at the end of the month to lay out some general guidelines for the redistricting process and will conduct an initial public hearing in June. He expects the council to finish the redistricting by early November.

The Ecker planall but cuts Pendergrass out of her district. She would retain her Huntington neighborhood but would lose the rest of Kings Contrivance to Paul Farragut, D-4th. She would lose Owen Brown to Gray.

By law,the council must redraw district lines by next March to reflect population changes recorded in the 1990 census. Pendergrass has seen the greatest increase -- her district now has 50,000 people -- and DarrelDrown, R-2nd, has seen the second-largest. His district now has 42,000 people.

When the council carved the districts five years ago, they were based on a county population of 118,000 and ranged from a high of 24,829 residents in the 1st District to a low of 22,684 in the 5th district.

Ecker's plan is based on a county population of 187,000. The districts would vary from a high of 38,048 people in the 5thdistrict to a low of 36,857 in the 3rd district. The mean populationof districts in the Ecker plan is 37,466. His criterion was that districts not deviate from that by more than 2 percent. The deviation allowed by the council five years ago was 5 percent.

The advantage of his plan, Ecker says, is that it maintains the integrity of the current councilmanic district lines, keeps neighborhoods together, maintains the integrity of Columbia and preserves the voting strength of minority populations.

The charter requirement for districts is thatthey be "compact, contiguous, substantially equal in population, andhave a common interest as a result of geography, occupation, history, or existing political boundaries."

Pendergrass called the proposal a "Columbia-ectomy," saying it was "outrageous" for Ecker to describe the plan as non-political.

Not only would her district go fromthe largest to the second-smallest in population, but Pendergrass would lose to Gray and Farragut the five precincts that gave her the widest margin in her narrow win over Republican Dennis R. Schrader in the 1990 election. Pendergrass beat Schrader by a mere 282 votes in a 10,550-vote election. In the five precincts she would be losing to Gray and Farragut, she beat Schrader by 584 votes.

Pendergrass also would be picking up two Republican-leaning precincts in the Montgomery Road-Route 108 area that went heavily for Drown in 1990. Drown beatDemocratic incumbent Angela Beltram by 432 votes in those two precincts, even though both have Democratic majorities.

The only gain politically for Pendergrass would be a Waterloo Road precinct that gaveGray a 199-vote majority in the last election. Gray ran unopposed.

If the Ecker proposal were adopted and the voting patterns continued as in 1990, Pendergrass would lose the 1994 council race by 585 votes. A two-term council member, Pendergrass is rumored to be considering a run for county executive.

In addition to the two precincts Drown would lose to Pendergrass, he also would lose a small precinct inTurf Valley to Feaga. Only 19 votes were cast in the precinct in the1990 election and Drown won 11 of them.

Overall, he bested Beltram by 2,075 votes in 1990. Assuming the same patterns against a Democratic opponent in 1994, he would still win by 1,400 votes even with losing precincts.

Although Drown said he hates to lose people, he knows he must because of the population increase. Overall, he said he is pleased with the Ecker proposal, especially since it keeps most of the present districts intact.

"We want to avoid having people voting for someone they've never seen or heard of before," he said.

Farragut, who, like Pendergrass and Gray, also is being talked about asa potential candidate for executive in 1994, said the Ecker redistricting plan appears to him to be "gerrymandered" and creates a greaterpotential for Republicans to be elected.

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