Baltimore city and county could get cozier if redistricting map is approved

December 08, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith Dennis O'Brien of The Sun's Baltimore County Bureau contributed to this article.

Somewhere between community institutions such as Jimmy's seafood house in Baltimore and Squire's Italian Family Restaurant in Dundalk falls the city-county line, a line that may separate the political present from the future.

The line falls in the vicinity of Trintis Caterers, the bingo hall and the Patapsco Flea Market at the corner of Holabird and Dundalk avenues. It falls between brick and wood-frame houses -- houses with manicured hedges and grottoes in the backyard, and without discernible county or city markings.

"The line is invisible," said state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore. "The houses are the same and the people are the same on both sides of the line. Solid neighborhoods, good people."

However invisible the line may be, it has been crossed boldly now by a governmental committee that is preparing an election map for the state of Maryland.

Under a proposal last week by the Governor's Advisory Committee on Redistricting, the 46th District of Baltimore, now represented by Mr. Miedusiewski, would extend into the 7th District of Baltimore County, represented by Democratic state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr.

In all, the committee's plan has six Senate districts that cross the Baltimore city-county line, despite urgings from county elected officials and community leaders that county legislative districts be kept intact.

The mapmakers' basic purpose is to balance the state's population equally in 47 senatorial districts.

But they are also linking the political fortunes of city and county, hoping to maintain the region as a political counterweight to the faster- growing Washington suburbs.

"It stinks," Mr. Stone said of the proposed map. "I really don't think it was very fair the way it was done. I believe in cooperation between cities and counties. I don't believe in regionalized government."

Mr. Miedusiewski argues that city-county linkage has been there for years. Neighborhoods melt back and forth across the line as if it didn't exist. Restaurants, bingo halls, churches and community associations share clients, parishioners and members without regard to the invisible line.

"When I go to speak to the Graceland Park Community Association," Mr. Miedusiewski said, "half the group is from the county, half is from the city. They don't differentiate. They have the same interests. It's not unusual for me to be there along with Norman Stone."

Mr. Stone is not convinced: "I don't think we should be engaging in this type of thing. People who live in the county want to be represented by people who live in the county. I think it's very confusing. It doesn't work. People won't know who to go to to get help for a problem."

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden came out in opposition to the plan Friday, saying it would tear apart communities and make it harder for county residents to be heard in Annapolis.

The plan also creates a majority black, city-county district along the Liberty Road corridor that committee members said is necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1982.

Mr. Hayden said he sees a need for more minority representation but that it could be achieved "with a plan that does a better job of respecting local subdivision boundaries."

In Northeast Baltimore, the city's proposed 43rd District would "annex" the comfortable Baltimore County neighborhood of Stoneleigh.

"This plan is slicing our district into oblivion," said a Stoneleigh resident who declined to give her name. She quoted widespread -- and false -- rumors that "our school system would become part of the city system."

She acknowledged that such a merger would not happen immediately, but she worries about the future. "We'd pay city taxes. . . . Those are the fears," she said. "People also fear property-value changes. We feel disenfranchised from what we are comfortable with."

In general, the concept of the proposed map is favored more by city legislators.

"The strengths and problems of the region don't recognize artificial boundaries laid out by some surveyor at the beginning of the century," said Delegate Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, D-Baltimore.

"After people stop fanning the flames, they'll realize that needs and concerns do cross the lines."

The flames may very well flourish, however. A public hearing is to be held on the plan at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Annapolis. Mr. Stone said he expects a couple of bus loads of people from Dundalk to testify. Mr. Hayden said he also will speak.

After the hearing, the committee might adjust the plan before making a formal recommendation to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who will propose a new legislative map to the General Assembly in early January.

The proposed map has made many incumbent legislators at least as unhappy as some of their constituents. Several say they will move to districts they think are more hospitable if changes are not made.

"I'm going through a grieving process," said Delegate Anne S. Perkins, a Democrat who would lose almost all of the central Baltimore district she has represented for years.

"I'm sure I'd like the new district just as well. But I've represented Charles Village and other neighborhoods for a long time. I like those neighborhoods and those people."

In the 43rd District -- the one that would reach across the city-county line to Stoneleigh -- four incumbent delegates will compete for two seats unless one or more of them move or challenge the senator in that district, Democrat John A. Pica Jr.

A fifth delegate, Democrat Kenneth C. Montague Jr., probably would run in a single-member district drawn within the 43rd.

"I don't like the fact that there are five incumbent delegates," Mr. Pica said. "But we're all grown-ups. We can work it out."

Mr. Pica and Democratic Delegate Ann Marie Doory said they are most concerned about how the so-called Harbel neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore was treated by the mappers.

That area was included in four districts and presumably would have to deal with four senators.

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