Turf Battles Loom As Council Begins Redistricting Talks

The Scene - County currents and undercurrents

June 05, 1991|By James M. Coram Rick Belz

At one point during the County Council's preliminary discussion of redistricting last week, Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, stood up against the wall, stretched out her arms and invited Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, to throw imaginary daggers at her.

Though in jest, it underscored the kind of cutthroat activity that redistricting can become.

Council chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, mentioned but did not include the avoidance of incumbent fights as one of the 12 criteria the council might want to use when it begins redistricting in earnest.

Gray presented the council a 20-week schedule that begins with a work session June 24 to determine the criteria for redistricting and ends Nov. 4 with passage of legislation making the new districts a reality.

In between, the council will conduct three public hearings:

July 10, the council will receive ideas and suggested maps for the new district lines.

Sept. 11, the council will hear about its own proposal.

Oct. 21, the council will receive testimony about the redistricting legislation.

Following Gray's mention of potential incumbent fights last week, Pendergrass suggested jocularly that the council could create one by putting Feaga and fellow Republican Darrel Drown in the same district.

Drown lives on the western edge of the second district, which he represents. Feaga, whose district abuts Drown's, lives on the eastern edge of his.

Even if Democrats Gray, Pendergrass and Paul R. Farragut, who represents the 4th District, did put Feaga and Drown in the same district, it would not be for long. County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, would be sure to veto such a plan.

The council shenanigans had a serious side. Members were letting each other know they plan to carefully watch each other.

Gray, who worked on the state redistricting plan in 1982 and was later introduced at a fund-raiser by Sen. Barbara Mikulski as a "whiz on districting," shepherded the council through the process in 1986 and appears to be taking on the same role in 1991.

In 1986, the council was populated by five Democrats. Now there are three. Feaga, especially, can be expected to zealously guard Republican interests.

He told Gray the council made "three or four major mistakes" last time. Gray asked him to name one and Feaga mentioned the Turf Valley precinct that juts into his district, but is now part of Drown's.

After he told Feaga the seeming irregularity accommodated a local civic group, Gray laughed and said, "I'm surprised you only found two or three" mistakes.

"Three or four," Feaga corrected. And he wasn't laughing.

With Pendergrass having to drop about 12,500 people from her district to other districts, and Drown having to lose about 4,500 from his, come November when the new redistricting plan is finally approved, Feaga may not be the only one who finds little to laugh about.

BETTER POSTAL SERVICE?

Oh, it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the new 29-cents-per-letter U.S. Post Office.

Shortly after the rates rose from 25 cents to 29 cents, I got a firsthand lesson that more money doesn't necessarily buy you better postal service.

First, I received what had once been the Book-of-the-Month's Club's newsletter filled with its monthly offerings.

Now wrapped amateurishly with crude tape in a piece of post office plastic wrap, the 8-by-10-inch newsletter had been chewed almost beyond recognition. I supposea machine did it. I hope it wasn't a hungry postal worker.

It also was a month late, a crucial error. Because the book club didn't hear back from me, it automatically sent me its monthly offering, which I didn't want.

So postal inefficiency created more unnecessary work for some mailman. The bulky book went back marked "Return to Sender." Strike one.

Shortly after that slip-up, I ran head-on into postal inefficiency once again.

I wanted to mail a book to my godchildin Chicago and took it to the post office main branch in Columbia. Ithought I could buy a mailing wrapper there.

Surprise. They only had two sizes of wrappers and the book was too large for either. Strike two.

The clerk directed me to a postal supply store about a mile away.

That's great, but I happened to be toting my 15-month-old-child and every trip in and out of the car seat might be the last formy back.

But I went to the store, bought a mailer, and returned to the post office, baby still in tow.

The clerk said it would cost$2.95 to mail and I paid her. Eyeing the child in my arm, the clerk cheerfully offered to put the postage on the package, did so, and kindly gave my child a coloring book.

This is great, I thought. Theseclerks are really nice. And I left to make a phone call to get the correct mailing address.

I failed to get the address by telephone, so I went home across town. I returned to the post office the next day because the package failed to fit in a regular mailbox.

A clerk immediately told me the package didn't have enough postage. I balked.She got a little haughty.

I firmly told her that another clerk there had weighed it and pasted the postage on yesterday.

It turned out that the original clerk had goofed and left a dollar's worth of postage off. Strike three.

It's just a good thing the package didn't fit inside the mailbox and that the second clerk caught the postagemistake. Otherwise, the gift might not have arrived until my godchild's next birthday. If ever.

But hey, I don't mind paying 29 cents to mail a letter. Think about what kind of service you might get if it was any less than 29 cents.

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