Democrats prevail in redistricting vote

Recommended plan approved, 4-3

Howard County

September 21, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

What began in July with five competing plans for redrawing the boundaries of Howard County Council districts was narrowed to one recommendation last night on a 4-3 party line vote.

Democrats on the Howard County Councilmanic Redistricting Commission prevailed with a plan that concentrates the bulk of Democratic voters in three Columbia-based districts, while leaving most Republicans in the other two districts that cover the rural western county, Ellicott City and part of Elkridge. It is not a dramatic departure from current district lines.

The main changes, if the County Council goes along, would move most of Fulton and Scaggsville into western District 5, while pushing west Columbia's District 4 farther north to take in Dorsey Search and areas north of Route 108. The council has scheduled a public hearing Nov. 5 after the regular County Council meeting.

Despite a few amendments to make the new districts closer to the ideal population based on the 2000 census, Republicans still denounced the final version as a partisan attempt to "pack" their voters, while Democrats said their goal was to keep communities together.

"I thought we compromised a lot. I was disappointed. I was really getting hopeful [for a unanimous vote]," said David Marker, a Democrat who is commission chairman.

"The message [in the vote] is that Democrats weren't even willing to accede to our standards of fairness," said Michael J. Deets, a Republican. In the adopted plan, the districts would vary in population from a high of 51,366 in District 5, covering the western county, to a low of 47,801 in District 2, covering east Columbia.

Despite the complaints, Republicans almost pulled off a move to outflank the Democrats, when Republican Diane B. Wilson called for a vote to approve an independent plan sponsored by Democrat Priscilla M. Hart.

Marker turned to Hart, who was sitting next to him, and whispered "Priscilla, you can't vote for this!" Hart abstained on her own plan, and it failed on a 3-3 tie vote. Later, she said, "I was caught in the middle" and abstained "out of party loyalty."

Democrats dominate the seven-member redistricting commission, 4-3, as they do the five-member County Council, 3-2. The council will have the final say on redistricting.

The council district boundaries must be redrawn because the 2000 census showed the county had grown 32 percent over the previous decade, leaving District 3 covering Savage, North Laurel and parts of Columbia more than 9 percent under the ideal mathematical population of 49,568, while District 1, covering Ellicott City and Elkridge, was 5.5 percent over populated.

Democrats are trying to preserve their hold on districts 2, 3 and 4, which collectively cover Columbia and environs, while Republicans were hoping to gain a better chance to elect a third council member - and gain control of the council.

The five plans introduced by commission members in late July were winnowed to three options by early this month - two from Democrats and one from Republicans.

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