Council unveils district map

Proposal presented by Balto. Co. leaders reflects census data

Major changes in west

May 22, 2001|By David Nitkin and Andrew A. Green | David Nitkin and Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Recognizing growing population in western Baltimore County - particularly among minorities - the Baltimore County Council unveiled a strikingly altered district map last night that could lead to the election of the county's first African-American council member.

The proposed map, endorsed by five of seven council members, features a newly configured 4th District that would comprise Woodlawn, Randallstown and Owings Mills. Of the proposed district's 108,828 residents, 59 percent are black.

Created to reflect population changes identified by the 2000 census, the district map also captures the political realities of county politics. Democrats would likely keep their 5-2 majority on the council.

The losers in the redistricting plan appear to be Towson residents, along with Councilmen Wayne M. Skinner of Towson and Vincent J. Gardina of Perry Hall.

Skinner, a first-term Republican, and Gardina, a Democrat, would be forced to run against each other in a newly drawn 5th District bounded roughly by York Road to the west, the Harford County line to the east, Belair Road to the north and Joppa Road and Perry Hall Boulevard to the south.

"I guess the best response is that politics is a blood sport and, unfortunately, there's elected officials and there's politicians, and the council is inundated with politicians more concerned with preserving their seats than the importance of their decisions on communities," said an angry Gardina, adding that it was too soon to say whether he would run for a fourth term.

Towson, the county seat, would be split among three districts, a proposal that is drawing criticism.

"I'm mortified," said Corinne Becker, president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association. "It will add so much bureaucracy that nothing will get done. It's clearly not being done with the constituents in mind. It is a power grab."

Perhaps the strongest force behind the new map is Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat. According to members of the council, Kamenetz worked behind the scenes with two goals: making sure his base in the Jewish community remained undiluted; and assigning primarily black precincts now in his 2nd District to the altered 4th District.

Kamenetz achieved his aim by linking Pikesville with Ruxton in a reconfigured 2nd District.

"The census results showed the population growth is on the west side, and therefore it's reasonable that the west side would gain an additional district," Kamenetz said.

State Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Democrat from Randallstown, said recently that a majority black district would likely be drawn as a matter of political necessity.

Once the lines are approved, she said, black leaders in the area will determine who would be strong candidates and try to unite support behind one person, with the goal of electing the county's first black council member.

"There is a strong African-American leadership, people who ... have aspirations for the group collectively that they could have someone from this population serve on the council and help to bring an additional perspective that can't possibly be there, no matter how good people are and how conscientious they are when they haven't shared your history," she said.

The plan was solidified in backroom negotiations during the past two weeks. Because the legislation creating new districts has five sponsors, its passage is likely. In addition to Kamenetz, Democratic Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder, Stephen G. Samuel Moxley and John Olszewski Sr. endorsed the proposal, as did Republican T. Bryan McIntire.

Olszewski's 7th District, located on the far eastern part of the county, and Moxley's 1st District, located to the west, appear most secure.

McIntire's 3rd District would expand near the Pennsylvania border to incorporate even more rural communities.

By law, council members had 90 days to redraw council district boundaries after receiving official census figures from the state this month. It is a task they perform themselves, and it will be finished by July.

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