Identity crisis

June 26, 1991

In the face of the 1990 Census, Baltimore County, like Baltimore city, is forced to come to grips with its changed identity through the process of redistricting. Predictably, there is squabbling on the political level, as current County Council members maneuver to keep their seats in the next election. But there is also disarray on the social level, as county residents confront the fact that the traditionally blue-collar 7th District, in the southeast, has lost population, and the young, upwardly mobile, professional population in the northwest 3rd District has grown by a whopping 25.8 percent. Equally important, the minority population has increased substantially. Yet, while blacks now comprise a significant portion of the west-side 2nd District and a fairly sizable part of the first, which is just to its south, there is no black voice on the council or, as a result, in government policy.

Signs of conflict are already vivid as residents of Essex organize to maintain their geographic cohesiveness and political clout, and the Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations fights to achieve precisely what Essex worries about losing. It is bound to be a bloody battle for Councilman Mel Mintz, who stands to lose his lock on the 2nd District, and for Councilmen Don Mason and Vince Gardina, who are slugging it out over what ostensibly is the fate of Essex, but what is really the re-election fate of both men. No one has yet churned out any credible, comprehensive redistricting plans, and the debate is so heated and the vested interests so entrenched that finding common ground will be difficult. But ironically, in the long run, none of this may matter.

To address the inevitable disappointment of many residents in the changing communities, the council is likely to propose a charter amendment, in addition to a redistricting plan, to increase the number of council representatives. If voters approve such an amendment, it would go into effect in time for the 1996 election, rendering the current, heated wrangling over redistricting moot.

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