Democrats' redistricting plan unravels Sitting Democratic representatives had not agreed to it.

August 07, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff John Fairhall and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this story.

In the strange world of political redistricting, the moon is always full. What goes around seldom comes around. And the expression "holding on to your seat" also means covering it.

Take, for example, what happened on that loony landscape yesterday when leaders of the Maryland Democratic Party tried to put happy faces on the state's incumbent Democratic congressmen.

The day began with party chairman Nathan Landow crowing that the five Democrats finally had given the nod to a single plan that would give them all a good chance to win re-election without having to run against an incumbent. They had been bickering over proposals among themselves for weeks.

"We're pleased to work this out," said Landow.

"We have consensus on this," said Thomas Cowley, the party's executive director.

But by the time the sun went down, so apparently had the plan -- or at least the alleged unity behind it.

Before it all unraveled, it went something like this:

It was supposed to have been a happy day. The incumbent Democrats were happy with the

plan, said Landow and Cowley. Party leaders were happy because the incumbents were happy. Democrats were happy, too, because the plan's proposed new minority district in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington could add another Democrat to the party delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives. And Democrats were happy because Republican incumbents were unhappy.

The proposal, which was submitted for review before Gov. William Donald Schaefer's redistricting panel yesterday, would throw Republican incumbents Helen Delich Bentley, now in the 2nd District, against Wayne Gilchrest, currently in the 1st District.

And all this could happen, said Landow, with a plan that would hardly alter the current districts.

(Forget for the moment that Rep. Tom McMillen's 4th District, which now is based in Anne Arundel County, would stretch from the southeasternmost part of Baltimore County down Chesapeake Bay and over to the Lower Eastern Shore, resembling a piece of rejected goods from a saltwater taffy factory.)

No, said Landow, the incumbents had put aside their petty differences and had bridged the intraparty chasm by consenting to a plan he had put together late last week.

"It meets the goals we had established -- the minority district, putting two Republicans in the same district," Landow said.

"I'm going to tell you that the other Democrats have not agreed on it," said Bentley, who is counting on Democratic support to keep her seat.

"Because if they have," she continued, "they have double-crossed [me] . . . I'm not going to take it. I will fight like a tiger."

Then, even Democrats who were supposed to have been behind the plan began drifting away.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, said he hadn't even seen the proposal, let alone agreed to it. When Landow summoned the Democrats to a meeting to discuss the plan last Friday, Mfume went. But, he said, there was no final decision.

"Nothing was really resolved when I left there," he said yesterday.

Rep. Beverly Byron, D-6th, admitted that her district got better treatment under the new plan than under other proposals. But, she said, she hadn't seen the entire new plan and, based on what she had heard about it, couldn't give it her enthusiastic backing.

The best Rep. Ben Cardin, D-3rd, could say for the plan was that he was sure Democratic party leaders had prepared it "based on what is best" for all Democratic incumbents.

Does he support the entire plan?

"This is Nate Landow's plan," Cardin replied. "This is just one plan that's before the commission for its review. This is clearly not our plan."

What happened to the Democratic unity? "I want to find out," said Cowley. "I thought we were rolling.

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