Redistricting plan draws a chorus of boos

September 04, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Correspondent John W. Frece of The Sun's Annapolis Bureau contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- Bearing signs saying "stop the gerrymander," a raucous crowd turned out last night to kill a proposed congressional redistricting plan that appears to be fast losing support in the General Assembly.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, meanwhile, vowed to veto thplan created by his own advisory committee, calling it "unfair to the Baltimore area, very unfair."

Most of the 200 disgruntled voters -- and politicians -- who crammed into a legislative hearing room and dozens more who stood outside said they opposed an advisory committee plan that would place two Republicans in one district, chop Baltimore County into five congressional subdivisions and carve a Western Maryland district extending from Garrett County to Harford County.

The plan released two weeks ago by the five-member committee appeared in serious trouble last night, not only in the hearing room but in the General Assembly, losing the entire House delegations in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Harford County. The plan needs a 60 percent majority -- 85 votes in the House -- when it comes up for a General Assembly vote Sept. 25. The opposition of those three delegations leaves 95 votes in the House that could support the plan.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., asked whether therwere no longer enough votes in the House to pass the plan, said, "I hope not. It's still very early in the process. We're going to continue to work to find the best possible plan for Maryland." House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. refused to answer any questions after the hearing.

Opposition from both the legislature and the governor places increasing pressure on the committee to make changes in the plan before it submits its final recommendations to the governor.

The governor, at a news conference earlier, said, "I will veto this plan because it is just not fair."

Mr. Schaefer said he has not developed a redistricting plan of his own, but said, "I've seen plans that are much fairer" than the one backed by the commission. "If I was going to submit my own plan, I wouldn't need the commission," he added.

Last night was the committee's final hearing on the plan, which would go into effect for the primary next March and last for a decade. About 100 people, from voters and party leaders to county executives and congressmen, spoke in the 3 1/2 -hour hearing.

Committee members, who backed the plan in a 4-1 vote, were trying to create districts that would help Democrats while not dividing regions of the state. Through the legal need to create a majority-black district and the political necessity of forging another district for most-favored-Democrat Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, two delegation members were forced into one district.

Committee members and others involved in the redistricting said any changes would likely be made to appease the two lawmakers who are complaining loudest: Representatives Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, and Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd.

There are attempts to return Baltimore County's port area of Dundalk and Essex to Mrs. Bentley, a political base that the committee divided between Mr. Cardin and Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th. And Mr. Cardin is lobbying to retrieve some city neighborhoods as well as the Howard County area lost under the plan to Mr. McMillen.

"This is a bad plan both for Republicans and Democrats," declared Mrs. Bentley, whom the committee placed in a largely Eastern Shore district with Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st. "It is a bad plan for the state of Maryland," she said.

Mrs. Bentley brought in several busloads of protesters last night -- and even provided them with box lunches. The crowd, many wearing red "Bentley" buttons, cheered wildly as she produced boxes of signed petitions against the plan -- more than 10,000 voters by her count -- and dropped them on the desk of the committee.

The Lutherville congresswoman joined four Democrats in the congressional delegation -- Mr. Cardin, Kweisi Mfume, Beverly B. Byron and Mr. Hoyer -- in pushing a revised version of the redistricting plan that would place Mr. McMillen in the same district as Mr. Gilchrest.

That revised plan has the support of the Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Harford County House delegations.

"We feel that the plan best serves . . . the Baltimore metropolitan area and the state of Maryland," said Delegate Frank D. Boston Jr., D-Baltimore, noting the plan also has the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Mr. McMillen, who came out for the committee's plan, was jeered by the crowd.

The Crofton Democrat said the committee plan leaves large areas of the state intact, including the Eastern Shore along with Western and Southern Maryland. And the district that encompasses Mrs. Bentley and Mr. Gilchrest makes sense for its contiguity, he said.

The committee's plan also was supported by legislators in Anne Arundel County and by Sen. Albert R. Wynn, D-Prince George's, who is expected to run in the majority-black district in the Washington suburbs that was also forged by the committee's plan.

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