Who can put the county back together again?


November 03, 1996|By BRIAN SULLAM

EVERY TWO YEARS, when Anne Arundel residents vote for their U.S. representatives, they are reminded of the 1991 redistricting plan that carved their county into four congressional districts.

At the time, politicians, civic leaders and citizens were outraged that the General Assembly used its long knives to fillet Maryland's fifth-largest county -- and what had been a single congressional district -- into four bites.

Although much of the initial outrage has dissipated, there are occasions when county residents are again reminded of the absurdity of the this arrangement.

Perhaps the most telling event was the congressional forum of Oct. 17, sponsored by the Greater Crofton Chamber of Commerce, West Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce and the Crofton Country Club. The forum was held for the benefit of the interested voters of Crofton, Severn and Odenton.

Six-headed debate

Instead of the customary face-off between two congressional candidates contending for the communities' votes, the group staged a triple-header, involving six candidates from the 1st, 3rd and 5th districts.

If these voters were to hear from their congressional candidates, this awkward forum was the only method available because redistricting had placed the three communities in three districts.

Some residents of Crofton -- the prototypical suburban community -- found themselves lumped together with residents from rural Eastern Shore counties such as Somerset and Caroline in a reconstituted 1st District. Other Crofton residents found themselves in the 5th District, which includes South County and runs to Point Lookout, the southernmost tip of Maryland's western shore.

In Odenton, residents who live on the north side of Odenton Road find themselves in the 1st District, while their neighbors across the street vote in the 5th. In the Chapelgate neighborhood, people living on one side of Chapelgate Drive are in the 5th, folks across the street are in the 1st.

This carefully engineered gerrymandering allowed the state to create a second minority-rights voting district in Prince George's County and prevented two Republicans -- Helen D. Bentley and Wayne T. Gilchrest -- from being thrown into the same district. It ++ also divided communities, neighborhoods, even precincts.

Danzig on the Severn

About 45,000 Pasadena and Gibson Island voters were carved into a tiny piece of the 2nd Congressional District.

Instead of being connected by land to the rest of the district in Baltimore and Harford counties, the Anne Arundel appendage sits surrounded by other congressional districts much the way the German city of Danzig was surrounded by Polish territory after the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

Brooklyn Park residents, many of whom had crossed the Baltimore boundary years ago to escape urban politics, economics and social conditions, found themselves back in the city's 3rd Congressional District, which actually takes in voters from Baltimore and Howard counties as well as Anne Arundel.

Perhaps before the next census in 2000 and the subsequent redistricting, Anne Arundel's delegation at the State House should make a concerted effort to map out a strategy to correct the terrible wrong that was done to residents of the county. It would make much more sense to reassemble the county into one, possibly two, congressional districts.

Even though Anne Arundel has four voices in Congress, the county is not receiving the kind of attention it would get with one or two U.S. representatives.

Here's a less esoteric -- but possibly more convincing -- argument for reducing the number of congressional districts: Having to listen to uninspiring debates between candidates is bad enough, but having to sit through presentations by candidates you can't vote for borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

Eastaugh's birthplace?

In another matter, it is amazing that controversy over the birthplace of Steven R. Eastaugh, Democratic candidate for the 1st District seat, drones on.

Mr. Eastaugh, a George Washington University professor of public policy who specializes in health issues, has been roundly criticized for fudging his place of birth. Early in the campaign, he apparently distributed literature that said he was born in Cambridge in Dorchester County.

By August, the story had been changed. Yes, he was born in Cambridge, but it was Massachusetts' Cambridge, not Maryland's. Mr. Eastaugh says he moved to the Free State at two weeks of age.

Where someone is born is a matter of fact. In most cases, the date and place of a person's birth can be established beyond a doubt using public records.

Out of curiosity, I called Boston's Bureau of Vital Statistics to see if it had a record of his birth. Unfortunately, no one answered the number I got from directory assistance. Alas, voters are on their own if they are casting ballots on the basis of where Mr. Eastaugh was delivered.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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