Leave Essex Alone

August 05, 1991

If the Baltimore County Council has any sense of political realism, it will resoundingly reject Councilman Donald Mason's effort to annex most of Essex and merge it into his Dundalk-based district.

The council must redraw councilmanic district lines every 10 years to reflect population changes. During the past decade, the older communities in the Seventh District lost so many residents that Mr. Mason needs 14,000 more people to satisfy the equal population requirements.

The choice is either to go deeper into Councilman William Howard's Sixth District (Rosedale, Parkville) -- which in turn would require adjustments in Councilman Charles "Dutch" Ruppersberger's Third District (Cockeysville, Owings Mills). Or the additional population could be taken from Councilman Vincent Gardina's Fifth District, which includes Essex and the White Marsh and Perry Hall areas and has been growing rapidly.

If that were the only question, we would have little quarrel with Mr. Mason's plan. But he wants to split the Democratic stronghold of Essex and separate it from its natural context with Middle River, another blue-collar community. In view of federal redistricting requirements, such a move could be legally dubious. Moreover, it would deprive Essex of its own representation on the council. Two council Republicans, Douglas Riley and Mr. Howard, have gleefully joined Mr. Mason's misguided attempt at gerrymandering, seeing it as a chance to gain an advantage over Democrats, who lost control of the county in last year's elections.

Mr. Mason, a conservative Democrat often in cahoots with Republicans, argues that his plan would in fact give Essex more clout by giving it two councilmen and two legislative delegations. We do not buy that lame argument.

While the Mason alliance is pushing for splitting Essex in half, it also argues that if the county council expanded from seven to nine members, Essex could have its own councilman again. This cynical reasoning shows just how mean-spirited the whole ploy is. Essex is being given the back of the hand by Messrs. Mason, Howard and Riley and no amount of double-talk can change that fact.

We are especially disappointed in Mr. Riley's direct involvement in this scheme. Since his election to the council last year -- and in his role as council chairman -- the Towson lawyer has shown promise and maturity. If Mr. Riley insists on going through with the Mason folly, he may risk much of the political good-will he has created.

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