Lawsuits expected for new map GOP sees weakness in redistricting plan

December 04, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith Michael J. Clark and Lynda Robinson of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Anger, bewilderment and threats of legal action dominated reactions yesterday to the map of election districts unveiled Monday by the five-member gubernatorial panel charged with equalizing populations in Maryland's 47 legislative districts.

Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, predicted a lawsuit. He said his party might join forces with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to contest the plan of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee -- unless it is altered.

"The plaintiffs will have to stand in line because there will be so many of them," said Carol A. Arscott, chairwoman of the Howard County Republican Central Committee. The GOP began to raise money to finance a suit last winter.

After a public hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Annapolis, the advisory committee might make adjustments in its recommendation to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Mr. Igoe and Ms. Arscott said they believed that the advisory committee's plan was vulnerable to a successful court challenge for several reasons: It permits variations in the size of districts between Baltimore, where population is dwindling, and Howard County, where it is growing rapidly. The city could end up with more representation per capita than Howard County.

In Prince George's County and in Baltimore, they said, black voters were packed into a limited number of districts.

The Voting Rights Act of 1982, as amended and interpreted by the courts, prohibits "packing" as a way of diluting minority electoral strength. It also requires creation of "minority influence" districts where possible -- a concept the committee "ignored at its peril," Mr. Igoe said.

When the plan was released Monday, Benjamin L. Brown, chairman of the advisory committee, said the Baltimore region's map was heavily influenced by the requirement to draw a new black legislative district which straddles the northwest city-Baltimore County line. Much of the map's "disruptive" nature is attributable to that, he said.

Asked if he thought his committee's proposal is lawsuit-proof, Mr. Brown said, "Nobody ever had a suit-proof plan. Will it hold up? With some adjustments, probably. But the probability is that we will be sued."

In southwestern Baltimore County last night, more than 300 people cheered as their state legislators and community association leaders denounced the plan to move Baltimore Highlands and a quarter of Lansdowne into the city's 47th district.

"This is a power grab plain and simple by the city of Baltimore," declared Delegate Thomas E. Dewberry, D-12, to the crowd in a Lansdowne catering hall.

Theresa Lowery, president of the Greater Bloomfield Lansdowne Riverview Civic Association, urged her neighbors to get on buses heading to Annapolis to make their opposition known. "We can't let this happen," she said.

Mr. Igoe said he believes some incumbent Republican officeholders were "on a target list."

Some Republicans were drawn into districts that separated them from the voters who initially elected them.

All the complaints were not partisan, however. Democrats joined Republicans to protest the treatment of Howard County.

Howard's county seat, Ellicott City, now lies within the 12th Senatorial District which is composed largely of Baltimore County residents. Of 14 delegates who would represent Howard, 10 live in a different county.

Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-Howard, called the plan devastating.

"If somebody had to deliberately set out to rape Howard County, they could not have done a greater job," he said.

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