Picture a lifeboat with eight passengers and only seven seats. The odd person out swims home with the sharks.
That, in a nutshell, sums up Maryland's once-a-decade congressional redistricting process. As the process nears an end, state leaders face the unsavory prospect of putting two of the state's incumbent representatives into the same district.
With a modest population increase documented in the 1990 census, Maryland will hold on to its eight congressional seats. But, it's almost a given that a federal voting-rights law will require the state to carve out a new majority-black district in the Washington suburbs. That would mean a new member of Congress from Maryland, probably black.
That leaves seven seats for eight incumbents.
It's another near-given that state Democratic officials want to draw new district lines that will ensure re-election for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, whose 5th District now includes heavily black areas in Prince George's County.
Hoyer, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, is considered a powerful asset for Maryland in Washington.
But no incumbent wants to give up safe territory to make room for Hoyer and the new district.
"They're all very selfish individuals, very very selfish individuals," said one official involved in the process.
Some Democratic leaders have come up with a traditional plan: attack the Republicans. Under a plan proposed by state Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley would be redistricted into the 1st District, which now includes the Eastern Shore.
That means she would probably have to run against her fellow Republican, first-term Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest.
"I think that it will be accepted as a reasonable Democratic plan," Landow said yesterday.
But five members of Congress -- including four members of Landow's own Democratic Party -- don't like the plan, which they believe would push them out of some politically friendly areas in their own districts.
It's OK for Landow to pursue "the most partisan Democratic plan that he can," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat from Baltimore. "And I'm all for that."
"But, understand where we're coming from," Cardin said, adding that he and others are trying to preserve three districts in the greater Baltimore area.
Scenario No. 2, which is supported by five representatives, calls for the Democrats to move McMillen into the Eastern Shore district, making him challenge Gilchrest. While McMillen would face a tough race, friendlier Democratic districts could be created for Cardin and another Baltimore Democrat, Rep. Kweisi Mfume.
Those five House members -- Cardin, Bentley, Hoyer, Mfume, and Rep. Beverly B. Byron -- yesterday submitted six options of that plan to the state panel that will propose a new district map. Each option included a large chunk of Anne Arundel County, which McMillen represents, in the Eastern Shore district.
Such a plan appears to give Bentley an easy path to re-election, which would reduce the chance she would opt to run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Some Democrats fear Bentley could mount a serious statewide challenge to Mikulski.
Meanwhile, McMillen is the odd man out.
"Our bottom line has been survival [for McMillen] and for others" in the delegation, said Jerry Grant, McMillen's top congressional and campaign aide. "All we ask for," Grant said, is a district that is half Democratic in registration and in which there is no Republican incumbent.
McMillen is raising campaign funds furiously, preparing for any contingency, according to Grant. As of June 30, he had $422,000 in the bank -- compared with Gilchrest's $3,400, should they wind up in the same district.
"We have known for a year and a half that our district is going to be markedly changed," Grant said. "We don't know if we're going to be dealing with both the Washington and Baltimore media markets. That's expensive."
A five-member panel appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer this week began final deliberations on a congressional map.
The panel conducted a 13-town, 1,310-mile series of public hearings before they began meeting for work sessions behind closed doors this week.
Benjamin L. Brown, the committee chairman, said the work sessions would be held in private to avoid exposing the panel members to pressure from political groups and the media.
Common Cause of Maryland, a citizen lobby, protested Brown's decision and asked that future work sessions be open to the public.
The work sessions are scheduled to last through August. The General Assembly is scheduled to consider the panel's recommendations and adopt a final map during a special session in September.