Caucusing Baltimore County lawmakers yesterday grudgingly accepted the requirement to carve out a minority-dominated legislative district in the county, but served notice that they hope to keep neighboring Baltimore from encroaching into any other county districts.
A county senator and three county delegates -- joined for a short time by a senator and a delegate from the city -- spent the better part of yesterday afternoon trying to find a way to redraw the district lines in the county, provide room for the new federally required minority district, and still save their political skins come election time.
When the ring of a telephone suddenly interrupted the session, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-8th, chairman of the county's Senate delegation, wryly answered it, "War Room."
"This whole process is grueling for Baltimore County," he later complained, noting that the new minority district in the Liberty Road corridor will force the county's seven incumbent senators to seek their political future in the county's six remaining districts.
"What we do in the name of 'equal rights,' " Senator Bromwell said shaking his head. "The liberals strike again."
Guidelines issued Monday by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee call for the city to retain eight districts and the county seven, with about 80 percent of the new minority district -- required by the federal Voting Rights Act -- in the county.
Mr. Bromwell said county lawmakers would prepare two maps by Monday: one showing proposed jointly shared districts and another with districts within county boundaries.
The commission is expected to unveil a final plan next week and hold a public hearing in December.
If Baltimore politicians are meanwhile successful in pushing city districts across the city line into the county -- a move designed to help the city retain some of the power it will otherwise lose due to a drop in population -- county districts could be pushed farther out into neighboring Harford or Howard counties.
In the case of Delegate Kenneth H. Masters, a Democrat who represents the 12th District in the county's southwestern corner, that would mean the loss of hard-core Democratic precincts and the gain of more heavily Republican precincts in Howard County. If that happens, he said, "Color me gone. Color [fellow Democratic Delegate] Tom Dewberry gone. Color [fellow Democratic Delegate] Lou Morsberger gone. We're history."
Pressure against city expansion also was building in Baltimore County communities such as Pikesville that are being considered as part of joint city-county districts, with community leaders angrily saying such a move would dilute their power in Annapolis.
"I have not ever heard as much anger about anything in this community as I have over this," said Gerald Altman, a past president of theColonial Village Neighborhood Association, which represents about 300 homes in Baltimore County near Pikesville.
Mr. Altman said that most of his neighbors say redistricting discussions have so far focused on the wrong priorities.
"We view this as a battle between politicians for their political survival, not on what's best for the communities or makes for good representation," he said.
Evelyn Burns, executive director of the Pikesville Community Growth Corp., said making Pikesville part of a city district could jeopardize the community's revitalization efforts, which had the avid support from Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-11th.
"It leaves Pikesville in a position where we're not the majority for anybody," she said.