Redistricting alarms some in Dundalk

Revitalization efforts could be derailed, supporters fear

Split among 4 districts

Area would share legislators with city, Anne Arundel

January 14, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Dundalk residents are dismayed that the governor's legislative redistricting plan splits their community among four districts, a change they fear could sap their hard-fought efforts at revitalization.

Residents were upset 10 years ago when three precincts were sliced away from Dundalk and added to a Baltimore City district, but this map, they say, is much worse. Three of the proposed districts stretch across city or county lines, causing worry that no one in Annapolis will have this east-side Baltimore County community's interests at heart.

The new map, released Wednesday, reinforces the division suggested by an advisory committee. One of the new Dundalk districts would stretch through the Inner Harbor to gentrified Federal Hill. Another would straddle Bear Creek in Baltimore County and loop around southern and western Baltimore, and the third would pluck two precincts from Sparrows Point and Edgemere and connect them to a district dominated by Anne Arundel County.

"People in Dundalk don't have anything in common with these people," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Dundalk Democrat.

For some Dundalk politicians, the new map could prove disastrous, forcing them into retirement or races against other incumbents in unfamiliar territories. But for residents, who were just growing hopeful after a decades-long struggle against decline, the plan seems like one more kick in the teeth from outsiders who have long failed to give the community its due.

"It's disheartening to think it would be handled in this manner without any regard to the communities or jurisdiction lines or the people who live in that community," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Dundalk Democrat and one of Maryland's longest-serving legislators. "Dundalk is in the process of revitalization, and this plan just goes and splits the entire community up."

In November, a group of architects and urban planners, known as an Urban Design Assistance Team, visited Dundalk and in days crafted a revitalization plan to capitalize on the community's history and waterfront.

Hundreds of community members banded together to form the Dundalk Renaissance Corp. and raised $16,000 in cash and more in services. Those funds, combined with county and state grants, paid the designers' expenses. Implementing the plan will require a lot more money, and residents worry that splitting Dundalk into several districts is going to make that much harder.

"When you don't have the homegrown representatives, you wonder if they'll really understand our concerns and pleas, and whether or not they will utilize the same forcefulness in representing our wishes as they would their other constituencies," said H. Edward Parker, a former high school principal who is president of Dundalk Renaissance.

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said he is sad to see Dundalk's district split up, particularly because of the strength of the legislators there.

But Ruppersberger and Sen. Michael J. Collins, the Essex Democrat who leads the county's senatorial delegation, said that city-county districts have proven to be an advantage for Baltimore County, not the detriment that people feared in 1990.

When the county asked for school renovation money in Annapolis, for example, it mustered the backing not only of its legislators but of senators and delegates from Baltimore whose districts crossed into the county. Standing next to all of them when he asked the Board of Public Works for funding sent a powerful message, Ruppersberger said.

"We had 10 members of the Senate who represented part of Baltimore County during the last eight years," Collins said. "That was rather wonderful because you only need 24 votes to pass a bill."

If the governor's plan holds -- and if the past is a guide, it will -- 12 senators will represent part of Baltimore County. Although the crossover would involve more legislators living in more jurisdictions, there's no reason Baltimore County can't present a united face again, Ruppersberger said.

"It depends on the leadership -- it has to start at the top," he said. "It's up to whoever takes my job to hold them together."

Dundalk will need to do that on the local level, and the planning and organizational work the community has done will be a major help, said Mary Harvey, director of the Baltimore County Office of Community Conservation.

Harvey said she's never seen a community group raise so much money from so many people as quickly as Dundalk Renaissance Corp. has.

If they leverage that strong support for their revitalization plan, they could have a great deal of success in Annapolis even without homegrown legislators, Harvey said.

"They can shop it around to those different candidates, folks they really don't know, and say, `This is who we are and this is what we want to see,'" she said. "In one respect, I think it is unfortunate that Dundalk is now being split up in all these different ways, but it's very fortunate that the community has this plan to market."

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