Plan links city, county in shared Senate districts

November 20, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- A new state political map would link Baltimore and Baltimore County by means of several shared senatorial districts, including one majority-black district, under guidelines presented yesterday.

The centerpiece of the new map suggested by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Redistricting Advisory Committee will be a senatorial district that begins with 20,000 West Baltimore residents and extends into the county along the Liberty Road corridor.

Some county residents have reacted unhappily to the prospect of being joined politically with the city -- and there were a number of predictions yesterday that the controversy would continue.

"Initially," said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, "there may be quite a bit of animosity and opposition, but that's how change takes place. We're inexorably linked with each other geographically, politically and economically. Even our water supplies are the same."

If there is resistance to a city-county link, though, it will almost certainly be deflected by legal necessities. The commission is following recommendations from the state attorney general's office involving the federal Voting Rights Act. This law demands creation of minority districts whenever they can be drawn. The minority population of this district would be about 64 percent.

American University professor Alan Lichtman, an expert on the act, has advised the Maryland attorney general's office that county lines cannot be a barrier to formation of minority districts.

The gubernatorial advisory committee recommended a total of 15 senatorial districts for the Baltimore-Baltimore County region with eight of them in the city, which has the larger population. Several other city districts could be extended into the county to gather sufficient population to reach the 98,000-person target.

Acting in concert with Governor Schaefer, the committee's decisions are shaping the state's 47 senatorial districts to the advantage of Baltimore, which stood to lose two of its nine Senate seats as the result of population losses during the 1980s. Under the plan outlined this week, the city would lose only one Senate seat, but it would share one of its allotted seats with the county.

The politically sensitive chore of drawing these new regional lines was given by the gubernatorial committee to the legislative delegations from each jurisdiction, city and county. The map drawing will be politically difficult because -- in both the county and the city -- the process will result in more incumbent officeholders than districts to run in.

"We are asking the delegations to work together to give us their recommendations for the Baltimore region based on the reality of a new Liberty Road corridor district," said Benjamin L. Brown, committee chairman.

"This is the first real step toward regional government," said Sen. John A. Pica, D-Baltimore. "You'll have several members of the legislature from the House and the Senate who represent the county and the city."

The city will be a winner in this process, he predicted.

"More individuals will be forced to deal with city problems," Mr. Pica said. "Those who represent an area in the city will have to think about the city's problems."

Mr. Pica and others, observing that some county residents have been opposed to any link with the city, say the process of drawing the lines will be difficult. Just arranging a meeting will be difficult, the senator said.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, who has been heading the county's committee on redistricting, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"It's hard to put people in a room because a lot of them are going to be upset," Senator Pica said.

Several officials said that they doubted a meeting would actually be held and that the two sides would confer by phone to avoiding having to vote on the new city-county alliance. It is possible, said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, that the final decisions will be kicked back to the committee.

"We thought we ought to give them an opportunity," Mr. Mitchell said yesterday.

Delegate Rawlings said, "I suspect the county folks won't buy into it and will be taken kicking and screaming to the new promised land. The new promised land is improved cooperation between the city and the county." But he said opposition among county Democratic officeholders could be reduced when they realize that districts shared with overwhelmingly Democratic Baltimore could be helpful to them in an increasingly Republican county.

The governor's committee is scheduled to meet Monday in the State Planning Department Office in Baltimore to receive the city-county map. It plans to meet the next day, Tuesday, to adopt a statewide plan. And a public hearing on the proposed plan will be held in Annapolis at 5 p.m. Dec. 5.

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