Democrats Flex Their Redistricting Muscle In Hearings

September 22, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

After three months of political skirmishing in work sessions and twopublic hearings on County Council redistricting, this much is clear:

The three Democrats on the council can, if they choose, try to force Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, into the same district.

Virtually no one other than Republicans opposed the idea at Thursday's night's public hearing. The council meets tomorrow night to settle on a final districting plan.

The council dealt with three mapsat the hearing, and a group concerned about preserving minority voting rights aired another. The map getting the most attention, however,was the one drawn up under the leadership of former Councilman LloydKnowles, D-4th, and endorsed by the Democratic Central Committee.

The Knowles map not only cuts Drown out of the 2nd District and putshim in the 5th District with Feaga, it alters Drown's district more than any other, stretching it around the northeastern end of the county from Woodstock to Dorsey.

By law, the council must redraw district lines by next March to reflect population changes recorded in the1990 Census. The 1st and 2nd districts must lose precincts and the 3rd, 4th and 5th districts must gain them.

Nancy Seitz, a member ofthe Ellicott City Democratic club and the second of 18 speakers to testify at Thursday's hearing, spoke in favor of the Democratic plan, saying it reunites Elkridge and Ellicott City -- something many residents wanted when district lines were drawn in 1986.

Drown told Seitz that despite the Elkridge-Ellicott City connection, the Democraticmap "doesn't do a very good job of keeping people together."

It makes "wholesale changes" by splitting Ellicott City in half and dividing Dorsey Search into thirds,Drown said.

"You don't have the benefit of seeing the Republican plan (prepared by the local central committee) which was even more devastating," Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, told Seitz.

The Republican plan was put forward by County Executive Charles I. Ecker. It leaves four of the current councildistricts virtually intact but makes a major change in the 1st District, where it strips Democrat Shane Pendergrass of the precincts thatsupported her in the last election.

The Ecker plan received little comment aside from winning support from the Dorsey Search village board. Two other maps, one from the North Laurel Civic Association andone from a group called Citizens for Equitable Districting also received little comment.

The Equitable map sought to draw districts that would assure minority voting strength in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th districts. The North Laurel plan was aimed at keeping communities intact.

Tom Flynn, vice president of the North Laurel Civic Association,said his group prepared the plan because they wanted to see a map that was community-centered rather than partisan-centered.

The politicians, however, would have none of it.

"If you want a non-partisan plan, require the lines to be drawn by the League of Women Voters,"said David Marker, a former member of the local Democratic Central Committee.

"Redistricting is the most political process government undertakes," said attorney James Kraft, who served with Marker on theparty central committee.

"For anyone to take a position above this is to defraud the public. To deny it is to deny political realities."

Retired state Sen. James Clark Jr., was not so sure, and offered the council "a little philosophy on the subject."

A former statesenate president, Clark lived through many re

districting schemesin his 28 years in Annapolis and worked with Gray on a state redistricting plan in 1982.

Although "it is asking a great deal to ask people not to be political or concerned with self-preservation," he said, "keep election districts with as few changes as possible. That will suit people best.

"Sometimes, political strategies backfire," Clark said. "Not everyone is as political as the people in this room. Some people don't know who their councilman is. It may not be helpful to keep changing them all the time."

In addition to drawing the lines tomorrow night, the council plans to decide whether to accomplishredistricting by means of a bill, a resolution, or both. Bills can be vetoed or overturned in a voter referendum. Resolutions cannot. Bills petitioned to referendum are put on hold until the next election. Resolutions take effect immediately.

County Solicitor Barbara Cookhas given Ecker a formal opinion in which she says redistricting must be done by bill and is subject to a veto.

The council, which voted along party lines to hire former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R.Civiletti and pay him up to $25,000 for legal advice, expects to getCiviletti's opinion tomorrow night.

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