ANNAPOLIS -- Furious with the General Assembly's plan to slice their county into four congressional districts, Anne Arundel County's political leaders said yesterday they are mulling over a riposte: a bipartisan lawsuit in federal court.
"If there's any possibility of relief in the courts, it's something we want to explore," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel. "It's not a political issue. This is about what's best for the people we represent."
"Our only avenue is to take the issue to court," said Delegate John G. Gary, R-Anne Arundel. "I think we have the grounds."
Delegate Gary said he consulted an attorney last night to determine if the delegation has legal standing and expects the full delegation to file a suit if it does.
"If the decision had to be made right now, every member of the [Anne Arundel County] House delegation would be in favor of doing that," said Delegate Tyras "Bunk" Athey, D-Jessup, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. "There is absolutely no rationale for this type of plan."
County legislators claim Anne Arundel has been drawn and quartered by the General Assembly's action. Their injury appears to have transcended party lines; Democrats and Republicans alike are talking about joining forces for a possible court challenge.
"We have to give it [the lawsuit] a whirl," said Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel. "This plan is a total embarrassment. My colleagues can't even look me in the eye when they see me in the hall."
County political leaders are fearful that the division may leave them without much clout on Capitol Hill since Anne Arundel voters will not constitute a majority in any of their four possible districts.
"I find it an amazing gerrymandering," said Delegate John C. Astle, D-Annapolis. "A lot of my constituents are disgusted."
The plan approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Monday night and the House yesterday makes Maryland's fifth most populous subdivision its most congressionally complex: communities, even precincts in some cases, were split by the new lines.
Robert P. Duckworth, the Republican from Crofton who garnered a surprising 41 percent of the vote last year in his challenge to incumbent Representative Tom McMillen, D-4th, was among those run through the redistricting Veg-A-Matic. His home, office and campaign headquarters are now located in different districts.
"I'm outraged by this abuse of power," said Mr. Duckworth, who has indicated he'll campaign for Congress again next year but is no longer certain in which district he will run. "The people of Anne Arundel County have been put to the slaughter by a process run amok."
Under the redistricting plan, which is expected to be signed into law today by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the largest portion of the county -- about 240,000 of a population of 427,239 -- would be lumped with the Eastern Shore to form a new 1st District.
That district covers Annapolis, snakes its way north into Democratic strongholds Brooklyn and Curtis Bay in Baltimore and includes the Eastern Shore. It lumps together incumbent Mr. McMillen, a Crofton resident, with freshman Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.
Meanwhile, about a 45,000-resident chunk from the northeastern part of the county, including the Republican bastions of Pasadena and Gibson Island, would go to Republican Representative Helen D. Bentley's 2nd District.
More than 64,000 people who live in the northwest would be added to the 3rd District currently represented by Democratic Representative Benjamin L. Cardin.
The southern and western portions of the county, with nearly 80,000 residents, would be added to Democratic Representative Steny H. Hoyer's new 5th District, which combines all of Southern Maryland with a portion of Prince George's County.
"The effort all along was to keep the nine counties on the Eastern Shore whole," said Delegate Marsha G. Perry, D-Anne Arundel. "Meanwhile, my tiny town of Crofton is divided up between two congressmen. And, if you drive two miles away, you've got another one."
Civic leaders in Brooklyn Park scratched their heads yesterday, wondering what state legislators think Curtis Bay has in common with Assateague.
"The reaction has been mortification," said Greater Brooklyn Park Council President Richard Bittner. "I thought you were supposed to follow natural boundaries and respect community integrity in this process."
"The way they have our district, I doubt Mr. Gilchrest -- if he wins the election -- is ever going to take the couple hundred miles trip it takes to see what's going on at a meeting in Brooklyn Park," Mr. Bittner said.
Laura Green Treffer, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee, said her organization would support a court challenge. "This is such a travesty and an example of gerrymandering, that yes, we would have to support it.
However, Joyce L. Terhes, the state's Republican Party chairman, said she would be surprised if the county GOP supported such a suit and doubted it would succeed.
"I hate to see Anne Arundel divided four ways, but overall, we are pleased with the way it worked out," Ms. Terhes said.