With rallies and petition drives, opponents of Maryland's congressional redistricting plan are organizing openly to overturn it -- while working frantically behind the scenes to alter the proposal to their liking.
Since its publication by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee on Aug. 21, the once-a-decade plan has been attacked -- for a variety of reasons -- by most of Maryland's representatives in Congress and their political allies. The opponents contend it is gerrymandered, splitting towns, ethnic groups and common interests.
But four of the five committee members are hailing the proposal, which they call the "people's plan," saying it preserves the integrity of Maryland regions while protecting Democratic incumbents in a state controlled by Democrats.
Several members of the state congressional delegation have rallied their troops for a public hearing on the plan tomorrow night in Annapolis. About 50 speakers have signed up to testify and bus loads of opponents are expected. But they also are working privately to retrieve political havens lost when the gubernatorial committee came out with its plan.
Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, hopes to win back portions of Baltimore's Jewish neighborhoods and parts of Howard County that the plan would remove from his district.
Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, is lobbying to regain Dundalk and Essex, the port areas she has long represented but which were split between Mr. Cardin and Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th.
Allies of Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, are hoping to persuade the committee to give Mr. Hoyer portions of Montgomery County rather than the Howard County turf he was offered by the panel.
One committee member who did not want to be identified said changes in the plan are likely after tomorrow's hearing. Returning the port areas to Mrs. Bentley's district and attaching additional city neighborhoods to Mr. Cardin's are said to be possible alterations.
This committee member suggested that Mrs. Bentley might ultimately back the plan if she picks up Essex and Dundalk -- even while being forced to run in the 1st Congressional District, now represented by another Republican. The committee paired her with Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st.
"I doubt it," Mrs. Bentley said of such a possibility. "I love Dundalk and Essex -- that would be very important to me." But, she added, "If I'm going to have to drive all the way to Crisfield, I might as well run statewide." She thus repeated her threat of a challenge next year to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.
Mrs. Bentley also is known to be considering a run against Mr. Cardin or Mr. McMillen.
"I'll run in the 1st District no matter who [else] runs," Mr. Gilchrest said when asked about a possible challenge by Mrs. Bentley. "I would hope we would not have to run against each other."
One advisory committee member noted privately the difficulty of alterations at this point, since each would have to be offset elsewhere, creating new opposition. New areas for Mr. Cardin or Mrs. Bentley could result in shifting Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, deeper into Baltimore County or shifting Representative Constance A. Morella, R-Md.-8th, from her Montgomery County base into Carroll County.
But there is one congressman who sees little need to change the plan: Mr. McMillen.
The Crofton Democrat said linking areas now represented by Mrs. Bentley and Mr. Gilchrest provides contiguity, while the districts drawn for four of the state's five Democratic representatives -- all but Mrs. Byron, a conservative -- have many Democratic voters.
Mr. McMillen couldn't be happier with a plan that does not place him in a district with Mr. Gilchrest, something five of his colleagues urged the committee to adopt.
In the midst of this political jockeying, Mrs. Bentley organized a rally in Bel Air Friday to oppose the plan and circulated petitions at shopping malls to send to legislators and the governor. Others in the congressional delegation have been meeting with state legislators and party leaders in their districts to battle the plan.
Those involved in redistricting note that the plan is backed by Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., both members of the redistricting committee. The two legislative leaders hope to have the votes to push the plan through the General Assembly when it convenes in special session Sept. 25.
Since it is emergency legislation, the plan requires a 60 percent vote from each body.
Whether that is possible is uncertain. At least two House delegations -- from Baltimore and Baltimore County -- are expected to come out against the plan tomorrow night.
The plan also faces a possible veto by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is on record as being "very unhappy" with the plan.