Council members in Harford weigh 2 redistricting proposals

Panel would put Aberdeen, Havre de Grace together

September 28, 2001|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

As the deadline nears for redrawing Harford County's council district lines, County Council members are weighing a plan submitted by a redistricting commission and a counterproposal introduced by a councilman who is unhappy with the panel's proposed changes.

Rebuffing a commission's work would be nothing new for the council. The county has redistricted three times since 1972, when the council form of government was adopted. And not once has the council used the plan submitted by its appointed commissions.

What is new in the once-a-decade redistricting process is that voters will choose district, as opposed to at-large, council representatives in the next election. The change, adopted in a county referendum last year, has council members more attuned than ever to the makeup of their precincts.

No major shifts in party balance are foreseen on the council, where six of the seven members are Republicans, but a few seats could change hands.

"With in-district elections, Democrats have a decent shot at two or three seats," said David E. Carey, county Democratic Central Committee chairman. "That would give us a council more reflective of the population."

In Harford, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 56,909 to 48,816. "But keep in mind, you have a considerable number of conservative Democrats," especially in the northern precincts, said Howard K. McComas IV, Republican Central Committee chairman.

The commission's map would split those northern precincts into two districts and pit two incumbents in the next election. It would also put Aberdeen and Aberdeen Proving Ground in the same district with Havre de Grace and create a separate Abingdon district to give the county's fastest-growing area its own council member. Abingdon and Havre de Grace are now part of the same district.

The commission chose as its top priority to define "communities of interest" in the districts and quickly found, according to its report, that community centers outnumbered districts.

After established centers such as Bel Air and Edgewood-Joppatowne are placed on the redistricting map, "on the east side of the county, the choices are somewhat limited," said Paul Ishak, the commission chairman.

Council member Lance Miller introduced a bill last week on the same evening as the commission's presentation, putting forward another plan the commission highlighted in its report. It closely mirrors the current districts.

Putting Aberdeen and the proving ground together has merit, said Miller, who represents northern District D, "but does that merit splitting the north? Or putting Aberdeen and Havre de Grace in the same district?"

The commission proposal also would pit Miller against Robert Wagner - both are Republican incumbents - in the next election. "Though that's not my biggest argument," Miller said, "let's be realistic. It is a factor."

The commission's work - which included producing computer models of precincts and compiling months of input from the community and officials - deserves more credence, said the Republican Central Committee's leader.

"The party as a whole would probably prefer to go with what the redistricting commission came up with," said McComas.

He said putting Havre de Grace with Aberdeen makes more sense than its current pairing with Abingdon.

A public hearing on redistricting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 16 in the County Council chambers. The council must approve a redistricting map by Nov. 20.

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