Redistricting Essex and Dundalk

July 06, 1991

For years, Essex has been a bastion for Baltimore County's Democrats. It has some of the most active Democratic clubs. It hosts rousing bull roasts that define this fund-raising tradition better than any dictionary. And twice in recent years, it has helped elect one of its own to the county executive's office.

Yet in last year's election, Essex led the revolt against County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, a native son who, local voters felt, had gotten too big for his britches by moving to more upscale Kingsville. But in deposing Mr. Rasmussen and Norman Lauenstein, the area's veteran councilman, voters changed the dynamics of county politics. As a result, Essex is now in danger of losing a council district of its own.

Under a plan introduced in the county council, Essex would be merged into the Dundalk district of Councilman Donald Mason. "It's not a logical argument, it's a vendetta," Councilman Vincent Gardina says of the plan. He charges that Mr. Mason, a conservative Democrat, and two of the council's vocal Republicans -- Douglas Riley and William Howard -- are ganging up on him to retaliate against his independent votes.

Council districts must be redrawn this year because of population shifts that took place during the past decade in Baltimore County. The new districts would not become effective until the 1994 elections, however.

Looking at that timetable, some council members are now talking about an interim redistricting map while they draft a charter amendment for voters to consider in 1992. That way, the council could be expanded from seven to nine members -- and Essex retained as a district of its own. Many black activists support such expansion talk because an additional district might also be carved to give blacks their first-ever representation on the county council.

The current seven-member council arrangement has served Baltimore County quite well, even though large districts can be taxing. That is particularly true in the case of the Third District, a huge land mass that encompasses the rural third of the county.

While we support expansion of the council in principle, we are aware of the pitfalls of parochialism. If the Liberty Road area is given its own district, for example, Rosedale is certain to demand its own representation.

The Dundalk-Essex controversy forces county council members to think about redistricting in a wider context. It could lead to many more county voters getting involved in decisions that directly affect their future.

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