Harford leaders are scrambling to block a redistricting proposal that would split the county between congressional districts in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
"When we are a small piece of a large piece of pie, I think we're going to see the crumbs," said James M. Harkins, R-District 35A, who attended a raucous public hearing on aproposed redistricting plan in Annapolis on Tuesday night.
"We need to be a bigger piece of the pie. By having more than 182,000 people being represented by one person instead of two, it would give us more influence in an election."
Harford leaders -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- rejected flatly a plan hammered out by a gubernatorial advisory committee led by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
The panel's proposal, which has drawn fire from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Representative Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, and elected officials in Baltimore and Baltimore County, would put most of Harford in the 6th District, now represented by Democrat Beverly Byron. Aberdeen and surrounding areas would be included in the 1st District now represented by first-term Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest.
Congressional district lines drawn 10 years ago, after the 1980 census, split Harford between Gilchrest's territory and that of Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd.
"You might as well hang a big sign over Bel Air saying 'Western Maryland starts here,' " Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said. "It's a five-hour drive from Bel Air to Western Maryland. They really gerrymandered this. They just divvied us up. Our priority is to keep thecounty together."
Although Harford's General Assembly delegation hasn't formally endorsed it, an alternate plan putting all of Harfordin a district with Baltimore and Baltimore County has widespread bipartisan support.
Michael Davall, chairman of county Republican Central Committee, said he thinks it's been good for the county to have two representatives. But he said the county has far more in common with the Baltimore region than with Western Maryland.
"Byron is justnot focused on Aberdeen Proving Ground," Davall said. "I'm not knocking her -- I've never met the lady -- but it would take a long time to get up to speed, and she's not used to fighting that battle. Harford's economy is very sensitive to the success of Aberdeen Proving Ground."
But David R. Shrodes, chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee, warned that Harford must be careful in its fight for unification.
"If we can keep Harford together as much as possible, that's what we should aim for, but we want to be willing to work with other subdivisions," he said. "We don't want to turn off blocks of votes in the House of Delegates when we may need their support in the year 2000.
Shrodes pointed out that Bentley, an outspoken opponent of the gubernatorial committee's proposal, won her seat in the House of Representatives as a result of the 1980 redistricting.
No matter what plan emerges from a scheduled Sept. 25 General Assembly redistricting vote, he said, not everyone will be satisfied.