For the first time, opponents of a controversial congressional redistricting plan appear to be gaining momentum, though the plan's architects still have the upper hand.
Opponents can count on Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who said yesterday that he would veto the current plan if it's not changed.
Schaefer, who has not tried to hide his dissatisfaction with the plan madeby the very committee he appointed, said the proposal was "absolutely not acceptable to me."
Opponents have received strong support from members of the House of Delegates from Baltimore and Baltimore County and a promise of support from Harford County delegates.
The Baltimore County Council backed its legislative delegation yesterday by passing a resolution condemning the plan.
While opponents are becoming better organized, it appears unlikely they will have enough votes to block the proposal in the House, where they are concentrating their efforts, or in the Senate.
The proposed plan was written in large part by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Democrats and the key members of the five-member Governor's Advisory Committee on Redistricting.
By rallying support, opponents hope to win concessions from the committee and ultimately the General Assembly. The redistricting panel is expected to meet this week to formalize its proposal. The General Assembly will hold a special session Sept. 25 to adopt a plan.
Opponents have proposed an alternative plan, which they outlined to a noisy four-hour public hearing last night in Annapolis.
An overflow crowd of 300 people packed an auditorium near the State House and more than 100 people testified, most in opposition.
The audience cheered what it liked and booed what it didn't -- including Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, seen as a villain by supporters of Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd.
McMillen kept his composure, joking that in his basketball playing days, "I was used to this in the Boston Garden and Chapel Hill, but not in the state of Maryland."
Bentley backers, lured by free bus rides to Annapolis, box lunches and a chance to root for their congresswoman, made up the largestcrowd of supporters: men and women from Dundalk, Essex and other strongholds in her district, which the Democrat-dominated redistricting committee would divide up among other congressional districts.
Bentley is in many ways the pivotal figure in the redistricting debate. Although a Republican, she is supported in redistricting discussions by Schaefer and four Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives, Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, and Beverly Byron, D-6th.