A two-pronged effort to enlarge the Baltimore County Council by gathering signatures to place a charter amendment on the November ballot has faltered, and may fail.
With less than six weeks left before 10,000 valid signatures must be submitted to the county elections board, one group gathering them has virtually given up and the other has only 3,600 names, organizers said.
Together, the eastern county group based in Essex and a western county group based in the Liberty Road corridor have collected about 7,000 names, according to Del. E. Farrell Maddox, the Essex Democrat leading the eastern group, and Harold G. Gordon, the west-side group coordinator.
The Essex group is angry because the area lost its own councilman when district lines were drawn last year, while the western group, composed primarily of black political activists, maintains that enlarging the council would make it easier to elect a black candidate.
Mr. Maddox, who is recuperating from pneumonia, said his group has stopped gathering names and may not resume. He noted that the groups would have to gather far more than 10,000 signatures to make sure they have enough that can be certified by the election board.
The plan seeks to expand the council to nine members from seven.
Even if proponents managed to gather the required number of signatures and submit them by the Aug. 10 deadline, they would still face the task of selling the plan to the voters before Election Day in November.
Mr. Maddox said concerns about government deficits and rising taxes have hurt efforts to gather signatures and would likely hurt the issue at the polls, as well. The county budget office last year estimated that expanding the council by two members would cost $300,000 annually. "Once you get out of the heart of Essex, people don't really care," Mr. Maddox said.
The General Assembly's budget wrangling and his illness distracted him too, he said, adding that "once you sort of back away from it, you lose your momentum."
Essex Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, who bitterly criticized the loss of his home base to Dundalk's district when election lines were redrawn last year, said he plans no active role in the petition drive. "I just don't have the time," he said.
Harold G. Gordon, an unsuccessful council candidate from the Liberty Road area, said his group of black political activists has resumed gathering names on Saturdays after a long hiatus. He said that he was under the mistaken impression until yesterday that the deadline for submitting the names was Sept. 8.
(Elections Board Administrator Doris Suter said the deadline is the second Monday in August, however, according to the Maryland Constitution.)
The two groups have different reasons for seeking to enlarge the council.
The Essex group is angry because population shifts that showed up in the 1990 census have robbed them of their traditional political base in old Essex. Council redistricting last year left Essex as a small part of a larger 7th District dominated by Dundalk's waterfront areas.
Mr. Gordon and his allies think more and smaller council districts would make it easier to elect a black candidate. Currently, with seven districts of roughly 99,000 people each, it is hard to elect a black councilman, Mr. Gordon said, even though Baltimore County's black population is more than 85,000.
Baltimore County, with a total population of 692,000, has only about 50,000 fewer people than Baltimore City. The city has six districts and 18 council members.