Districts may cross city-county lines Panel lays the groundwork for legislative districts that must meet Voting Rights Act.

November 20, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff Larry Carson contributed to this story.

Like it or not, Baltimore and Baltimore County appear destined to become closer political bedfellows.

A special legislative redistricting committee has laid the groundwork for at least three joint city-county legislative districts, two of them dominated by city voters.

City politicians are delighted with the match. County politicians are calling it a shotgun wedding.

First, the committee decided that the federal Voting Rights Act requires the state to carve out a new black-dominated district in the Liberty Road area, straddling the city-county line but falling mainly in the county.

While black leaders in the county have pushed for such a district, creating one means that two incumbent white senators and as many as six delegates would wind up having to run against each other for re-election in 1994.

"I don't like it," said state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the county Senate delegation, although he admitted he had not seen the committee's actual proposal. "All we do is accommodate minorities these days at the cost of everyone else."

Second, the panel endorsed a plan that allows the city to hold onto a good chunk of its political clout, despite a dwindling population.

Specifically, the city would control eight legislative districts, but only by expanding some of its districts into the county to pick up enough voters to meet the statewide standard. Besides the minority-dominated district on the west side, the location of the other merged districts is up in the air.

"This is the first real step to a regional government," said state Sen. John A. Pica, D-City. "We can talk all we want about regionalism and coalescing with Baltimore County, but this forces the county to work with city constituents and vice versa."

The mood across the boundary was not so upbeat.

"Any folks who would be part of a city district would be very unhappy," said Del. Kenneth H. Masters, a Democrat who

represents Catonsville and Arbutus.

The committee's proposals, which one Annapolis official called "a political atomic bomb," could start a statewide battle. By allowing the city to retain an eighth legislative district, the panel has to take it from somewhere else.

The big loser could be Montgomery County, whose population grew enough between 1980 and 1990 for it to theoretically pick up two senatorial seats. The committee's proposal could mean that Montgomery -- now the state's most populous jurisdiction -- will pick up only one.

The committee's plans have a long way to go before they are enacted. There will be public hearings before the committee sends its recommendations to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer must then decide on changes to the proposal. Finally, the legislature, if it can agree on changes, can redraw the governor's proposal during the 1992 session.

The city now has nine districts. Between the 1980 and 1990 Census counts, its population dropped enough for it to lose two of those. But sources said Schaefer, as well as the redistricting committee, have concluded that the city will hold onto eight districts.

The Voting Rights Act requires states to draw legislative districts to give minorities every chance to elect one of their own.

Legal experts advised the committee they had no choice in the Liberty Road corridor, where the black population has grown dramatically in the last decade. The proposed district, four-fifths of which would fall in Baltimore County, would have a black population of about 62 percent.

"[The committee] is in a dilemma," said Del. E. Farrell Maddox, chairman of the county House delegation. "They could develop a minority district, and if they could, they must."

Maddox said he is steadfastly opposed to districts that cross city-county lines.

"I feel that once we destroy the integrity of the county borders, it will disenfranchise people," Maddox said.

The needs and wants of city and county neighborhoods are very different, he said.

Even so, the county can not afford to sit back and let others draw the lines, Maddox said.

"We should sit down and get the best we can," Maddox said.

County lawmakers must now decide which two county senators, and which delegates, will have to run against each other in 1994. The redistricting committee has asked city and county lawmakers to submit new proposals to meet the guidelines adopted this week by the committee.

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