District shared, but not needs

Redrawn 7th includes rural, suburban areas -- and complicated politics

`Outrageous what the court did'

Mixing regions will rob voters of influence, relevance, critics say

July 08, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Although many applauded the Maryland Court of Appeals for reuniting Dundalk in one legislative district, some low-key grumbling has surfaced in the new 7th District - a 20-mile- wide croissant-shaped swath of land connecting Cockeysville, Middle River and the outskirts of Bel Air, communities that residents say have little in common.

People in Cockeysville say they're used to working together with the communities along the York Road corridor: Towson, Timonium and Hunt Valley. Middle River has long been tied to Essex. And the Harford County communities in the new district are either rural enclaves or fast-growing suburbs near Bel Air.

Michael J. Collins, who recently retired after more than two decades of representing Essex in the House of Delegates and Senate, said it looked like the court had some leftovers it didn't know what to do with. In tying three disparate areas together, the court severed natural community ties and made it nearly impossible for them to have a legislator truly representing their interests.

"It's outrageous what the court did," said Collins, who gave up his Senate seat after being named to the State Board of Contract Appeals in May.

"I believe that Edgemere and Dundalk should have been whole, but to make them whole at the expense of Essex and Middle River and then ... putting them together with Cockeysville and Fallston and precincts in Harford County is outrageous."

The deadline for General Assembly candidates to file for the fall election is today.

In Gov. Parris N. Glendening's original redistricting map, drawn to reflect population numbers from the 2000 Census, Dundalk was divided among four districts, one of them stretching across the Patapsco River into Anne Arundel County. The sharing of districts between Baltimore City and Baltimore County also was expanded.

Last month, the court ruled the governor's map unconstitutional for ignoring geographic and jurisdictional boundaries and announced that it would draw a new map. The court's map made significant changes on the Eastern Shore, reunited Dundalk and eliminated the city-county crossover districts.

The result in Baltimore County is that most districts are compact and can be readily identified by traditional communities of interest.

But in the new 7th, community leaders fear they have lost their chance to be represented by one of their own. "The people of Essex, under this map, will not have the possibility of electing a legislator," Collins said.

Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state senator and a national expert on suburban demographics who has studied the Baltimore area, said the important thing in redistricting is to keep together communities in similar stages of development that are facing similar challenges.

"[When] they create districts from inner suburbs to outer suburbs, that's a bad thing," Orfield said. "Those are the people who often get shortchanged in redistricting, the Essexes and Dundalks of the world. They tend to get snatched away so they never become relevant."

Diverse population

The diversity of the new district can be illustrated by the two front-runners in the race for state Senate.

On the Cockeysville end is Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist and one of the legislature's most conservative Republicans.

On the Middle River end is Del. Diane DeCarlo, a bar owner and Democrat who helped lead the opposition to Senate Bill 509, a condemnation plan that was backed by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger but defeated by voters in a referendum.

Political observers say the race is a toss-up.

Other candidates running for the district's three delegate seats said they believe they can find common issues throughout the district.

"The concerns are basically the same," said Del. Nancy Hubers, an Essex Democrat. "Education, crime and the environment."

Different needs

But the diversity of the district means that voters' concerns can be different. For example, standardized test scores of middle schools in the three parts of the district tell widely varying stories about students' educational needs.

At Fallston Middle School in Harford County, Maryland Department of Education statistics show that 2.5 percent of pupils receive free or reduced-price lunches, a standard measure of poverty. More than 70 percent of eighth-graders scored above satisfactory in four of six categories - writing, math, science and social studies - in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program last year.

At Cockeysville Middle, 10 percent of pupils receive free or reduced-price lunches. MSPAP scores were nearly identical to those in Fallston.

But at Middle River Middle School, 43.1 percent of pupils receive free or reduced-price lunches. Fewer than 45 percent of eighth-graders recorded satisfactory scores in any of the six categories on the test. Just 3.3 percent of eighth-graders there scored an excellent in math, compared to 21.6 percent in Fallston and 32 percent in Cockeysville.

Timothy P. Knepp, an Essex attorney who is running for House of Delegates as a Democrat in the 7th, said representing people of such different backgrounds and income levels would be difficult.

Ultimately, he said, he thinks the mixing of ideas will be good, but it will be difficult because people in different parts of the district see life differently.

"The amazing thing is, here on the east side, they're looking at tearing down old housing projects and rebuilding them. When you go to the northern end of the district, their concern is about new building going on too quickly," he said. "You literally have two ends of the spectrum of the development of a community."

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