A Radical Idea: City and County Are in It Together


November 24, 1991|By BARRY RASCOVAR | BARRY RASCOVAR,Barry Rascovar is deputy editor of the editorial pages of The Sun.

"All we do is accommodate minorities these days at the cost of everyone else.'' A quotation from David Duke? No. This gem of rabble-rousing babble comes from state Sen. Thomas Bromwell of Baltimore County.

The target of his frustration was the decision of a gubernatorial advisory panel on redistricting to force county legislators to recognize that shared General Assembly districts with Baltimore city are inevitable. This is a potentially explosive political grenade incumbents hoped they'd never have to handle.

Instead of reacting with thoughtfulness and wisdom, county legislators took the demagogic low road. Fumed Del. Kenneth Masters, ''Any folks who would be part of a city district would be very unhappy.''

Yet what's being proposed is hardly earth-shattering. The redistricting commission is asking the city and county to share at least one district. Every county in Maryland operates with such districts -- without complaint. Thirteen of the 47 districts are multi-county. So much for Baltimore County Del. Farrell Maddox' notion that ''once we destroy the integrity of the county borders, it will disenfranchise people.''

The problem, from county politicians' perspective, is two-fold. First, few want to be associated with the city. There are racial overtones in this. But there is also economic elitism and social snobbishness. To them, ''The City'' means crime, drugs, violence, congestion, high taxes, troubled schools and poor people (most of them black).

But these ills are not confined to the city. They are marching relentlessly into neighboring counties. The artificial city-county boundary line can't stop this progression: The county has more crime, more drugs, more violence, more congestion, more taxation, more troubled schools and more poor and needy people than ever before.

The second problem that infuriates county legislators is that they are being forced to engage in internecine warfare. They had just cut a deal to avoid doing that by gerrymandering blacks along Liberty Road into a rural north-county district, thus preserving the quid pro quo among Baltimore County's seven state senators.

Then the governor's advisory panel declared that federal law required Baltimore County to have a full minority district that crosses the city-county line. This means seven incumbent senators squeezed into the remaining six districts.

Despite the initial angry rhetoric from county legislators, the advisory panel's decision opens up new horizons for just about everyone involved. This is one redistricting move that could have a wide range of positive results.

* Shared districts will greatly enhance the city's leverage, despite its population decline. Instead of the present 36 legislators representing city interests, there could be 40

legislators whose districts include some city residents.

* At the same time, the county's clout in Annapolis will be increased as a result of shared city-county districts. Towson's concerns will get far greater attention at city delegation meetings -- and at City Hall.

* Efforts to achieve regional solutions will get an enormous boost. City state Sen. John Pica called this ''the first step toward regional government.'' There will be a lot more legislators eager to embark on joint city-county efforts on such issues as recycling, library operations, police and fire protection and landfills.

* Endangered Democratic incumbents in the county could get a new lease on life. Senator Bromwell, for instance, is a prime target of county Republicans. His only hope for re-election could be linked to picking up solidly Democratic precincts inside the city.

* Ironically, Republicans could use these shared districts to break a 40-year jinx in the city and win a seat in the House or Senate.

* Leaders of the area's Jewish community could use shared districts to preserve two majority-Jewish districts, while blacks would be assured of representation in the Liberty Road corridor. For the first time, black legislators would be at county delegation meetings, forcing county politicians to confront social issues they often avoid.

* Baltimore County is also likely to share other districts with Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. This, too, will force legislators to think if regional terms -- and give Towson a sphere of influence greater than it now enjoys in Annapolis.

* The Baltimore region would be far more unified in its legislative objectives. There would be a greater understanding of mutual needs.

In this redistricting fight, unlike the one over congressional boundaries, Governor Schaefer plays the dominant role. He and his advisory commission, which includes the powerful House speaker and Senate president, are in agreement that the city and county have to share legislative districts.

That virtually assures it will happen. Legislators fighting the governor's plan won't get far. And even if they succeeded in reinstituting the Berlin Wall between the city and county, federal courts almost assuredly would order the wall torn down and shared districts created.

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