Cecil residents have mixed feelings about where to draw the line

October 03, 1991|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Correspondent Tom Bowman of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

ELKTON -- Geographically at least, Cecil County stands backed into a Maryland corner, the only county in the state with a foot on either shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

Today, as the General Assembly tries to map new congressional districts for Maryland, it will grapple with Cecil's political identity for the next decade: Should it remain part of the Eastern Shore, as House SpeakerR. Clayton Mitchell Jr. insists, or does it make a better fit with Harford County and points south?

Cecil residents themselves have mixed feelings, according to a sampling of sentiment here. For a county whose main town is closer to Philadelphia than to Baltimore, such questions of identity are understandably never easy to answer.

The only consensus among residents seems to be that their county -- where half root for the Orioles, half go for the Phillies and almosteverybody shops tax-free in Delaware -- remains a political afterthought in Maryland.

"Most of our fellow Marylanders west of the Susquehanna River think Maryland ends right there" at the Cecil County line, the 150-year-old Cecil Whig said yesterday in an editorial favoring remaining politically part of the Eastern Shore.

"Cecil County is kind of like an entity of its own," said Suzan F. Doordan, executive director of the county chamber of commerce. "Wealmost don't belong anywhere, and yet we belong everywhere. Where do we fit? We don't know."

County planning director Al Wein said Cecil itself is quite regionalized. The farms and riverside towns south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal have a strong association with the Eastern Shore, he said, while Susquehanna River towns like Perryville are linked to Harford County and increasingly by commuter trains to the Baltimore area.

Rising Sun and other villages in the county's northern tier have ties to nearby Pennsylvania.

Finally, about 40 percent of Cecil workers, particularly those in the Elkton area and the whole Interstate 95 and U.S. 40 corridor, commute every day to jobs in New Castle County, Del.

In Annapolis yesterday, House Speaker Mitchell, D-Kent, predicted that his compromise plan keeping Cecil County part of a Shore district will gain more votes in the House today than the redistricting plan it passed last week 89-13.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, has opposed Mr. Mitchell's compromise because it would trim votes from Anne Arundel County as it shifts the bulk of a proposed new district to the Shore. Both Senate and House proposals would pit Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, against Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st.

While Cecil County might seem hopelessly pulled in different directions, officials champion its diversity, calling it "Maryland in Miniature" and a gateway to the Chesapeake Bay.

Cecil countians' Maryland loyalties range from fierce to none.

"We consider ourselves Eastern Shoremen," declared Birdie ,X Battersby, bar manager at the Hole in the Wall, a Chesapeake City watering hole south of the C&D Canal.

Mr. Battersby, a fifth-generation resident of the quaint canal city and a town council member, said: "We've been associated with the Shore so much, it would be a shame to take it away."

But Matthew Reed, 21, a Rising Sun business student, said, "I consider myself attached to Delaware mostly. There's nothing in Maryland. Everything you want to do -- the mall, parties, school -- you have to go to Delaware.

"Everybody keeps calling me a Marylander, but I don't like it. Marylanders are supposed to like seafood, and I don't," he said.

Gaile Pasqualini, 51, who lives in Elkton but works as a saleswoman at a Delaware mall, said, "People tease me and say we're part of Delaware."

Although she grew up in Harford County, Ms. Pasqualini said she identifies with the Eastern Shore.

"I guess I've gotten used to saying we're Maryland's stepchild," she said by way of explanation. "Stores in Baltimore don't deliver across the [Susquehanna] river. We're kind of cut off."

Gary Ashby, 50, a telephone company cable splicer, agreed that the Susquehanna was a formidable boundary. He also thinks Cecil should retain its Upper Shore identity, if only for pragmatic reasons -- to avoid being swallowed up in a metropolitan district.

"We're just out here and nobody wants to hear from us. It's always, 'Cecil County -- where's that at?' " he said. "If we become part of Harford and Baltimore counties, we'll be a lost ZTC county. Right now, we feel that way, and it'll be even more so."

Cecil County's population grew by about 18 percent to 71,000 in the 1980's as new subdivisions sprung up to house transplanted Wilmington residents such as Jack Fleming, 40, a systems analyst.

Mr. Fleming, who still works in Delaware, said he preferred an Eastern Shore style of life, but wanted it coupled with Baltimore-style political representation in Congress.

"Whenever decisions are made,we're neglected up here or at least the last to be considered," he said. "Being linked to &L Baltimore County, we would have more of a say."

Randi Replogle, 34, of South Chesapeake City thinks she has a compromise redistricting plan: Split Cecil County at the C&D Canal.

"That's where the Eastern Shore starts," she said. "Cecil County doesn't know anything below the canal exists, and Kent County doesn't know anything north of the Sassafras River [the county boundary] exists anyway."

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