Battle Over County Redistricting To Focus On 1st District

Changing The Map -- And Political Landscape?

July 10, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

With the exception of the 1st District, very little is expected to change as the County Council begins its redistricting process in earnest tomorrow night.

But the redrawing of the 1st, where incumbent Democrat Shane Pendergrass defeated Republican Dennis R. Schrader by only 282 votes in November, may provide plenty of drama.

That district, running from Elkridge in the north to north Laurelin the south and encompassing most of the Columbia village of Owen Brown, has grown more than any other and must be cut by at least 11,192 people.

By law, the council must redraw the district lines aftereach census.

Since the county's 1990 population was 187,328, eachdistrict ideally would have a population of 37,466. The council voted to allow a district to vary 5 percent from the ideal -- from 35,593to 39,339.

The 3rd, 4th and 5th districts must add population in the redistricting, and the 2nd District, like the 1st, must lose some.

Redistricting is not mere number-crunching. Other factors -- compactness, contiguousness, existing political boundaries and "common interests as a result of geography or history" -- also play parts.

When the council first divided the county into council districts in 1985, many communities complained about getting split up. Elkridge residents, for example, felt they had more in common with Ellicott City to the west than with Savage to the south. But Elkridge was put in the Savage-north Laurel district.

Owen Brown was itself divided, split between the 1st and 3rd districts. The Owen Brown village board has told the council it wants no such split this time. Indeed, Owen Brown is asking that Columbia have three council members to itself -- a very unlikely scenario.

Since the five precincts north of Route 175 in Pendergrass' district voted against her in the November election, she would probably be glad to let them join Republican Darrel Drown's Ellicott City 2nd District, as they had wanted six years ago.

But the overpopulated Ellicott City district must also lose, rather than gain, territory. The only other place Pendergrass' Republican-leaning precincts can go is the 3rd District, which has the smallest population of any district and must increase by at least 6,000 people.

Since 1985, the 3rd District has been the stronghold of Democrat C. Vernon Gray, the council chairman. It is unlikely that Gray, who ran unopposed and received the highest vote total of any Democratic council member in November, would be willing to incorporate the Elkridge precincts into his district.

He could pull from the GOP's Ellicott City territory or pick up population in Owen Brown, a Democratic bastion that gave Pendergrass her margin of victory in November. Gray andPendergrass have clashed sharply and often since their re-election and can be expected to do no less in their battle over who will gain the friendly Owen Brown turf.

Gray's district cannot move west across U.S. 29 because it would intrude on Democrat Paul R. Farragut's 4th District. Farragut's district has the second-smallest population and must grow by at least 4,218.

Farragut could gain population fromDrown's Ellicott City district or join the battle for Owen Brown. Farragut's district already dips east of U.S. 29 into Allview Estates, Owen Brown's next-door neighbor.

To the west of Farragut is Republican Charles C. Feaga's 5th District, the county's largest geographically. Like the east and west Columbia districts, the 5th must add population -- a minimum of 2,392. Like Gray and Farragut, the only placeFeaga can pick up population is from Pendergrass' or Drown's district. His huge district is contiguous to both.

The council will not confront these issues until the end of this month, when it begins drawing a new map. Tomorrow night's hearing is to receive maps and comments from the public.

Except among political partisans, redistricting has stirred very little public interest, council secretaries say. They say the council has received virtually no letters or phone calls on the subject.

Only half a dozen maps -- all of the eastern portion of the county -- have been requested, they say. The maps have beenavailable in the council office at cost for people who plan to sharetheir redistricting concepts with the council.


Wednesday, July 10: Public hearing to receive map proposals.

Wednesday, July 24: Work session to review proposed maps and begin drafting a new map.

Thursday, Sept. 5: Work session to complete drafting of new map.

Wednesday, Sept. 11: Public hearing on proposed map.

Wednesday, Sept. 18: Final work session on proposed map.

Monday, Oct. 7: Introduce legislation codifying new map.

Monday, Oct. 21: Public hearing on districting legislation.

Monday, Oct. 28: Work session on districting legislation.

Monday, Nov. 4: Vote an districting legislation.

All meetings begin at 7 p.m. Work sessions will be conducted in council meeting room. Hearings and legislative sessions will be in the council chambers.

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