Congressman Elijah Cummings of District 7. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
The 2010 census results found a roughly 10,000-person gap between the five-member Howard County Council's most populous District 1, covering Ellicott City and Elkridge, and the least populous District 3, covering North Laurel, Savage and a small section of Columbia.
The figures show how the county's population has changed over the past decade, and where the growth has left district lines drawn in 2001 out of whack. The County Council approved the seven members of a new Redistricting Commission at its March 7 meeting, and the panel will make recommendations on how to redraw the lines.
Although the numbers must still change slightly to account for state prison inmates' former residential addresses, the ideal council district should contain 57,417 people. That's about 7,800 more per district than in 2001, reflecting the county's roughly 39,000-person gain.
But Councilwoman Courtney Watson's District 1 contains 62,416 people, while Jen Terrasa's District 3 holds 52,039.
"That's huge," Watson said "Think about that from a workload perspective. That's a huge difference." She noted that her staff is the same size as Terrasa's. "The number of people doesn't necessarily represent the workload," Terrasa pointed out, adding that she hasn't yet studied the situation.
Anticipated growth is another factor. District 3 is gaining population from the Emerson development and will gain more from two planned mixed commercial-residential projects near the Laurel and Savage train stations, while District 1 also has a train station project planned. The downtown Columbia redevelopment should also get under way in this decade..
Mary Kay Sigaty's District 4, covering west Columbia including the downtown, is the closest to ideal size right now, with 56,353 souls. Greg Fox, the council's only Republican, represents 61,391 people in his sprawling District 5, which covers the western county and parts of Fulton and North Laurel.
Council Chairman Calvin Ball's District 2, covering east Columbia and Jessup, is perhaps the most compact geographically, with 54,886 people. The districts may vary from the ideal average by 5 percent (2,871 people) either way, which means most are already within striking range.
Sigaty was excited to find herself closest to the average. "It means I can keep my district," she said. "Leave it exactly the way it is."
But Watson pointed out that since her district borders Fox's, it will be hard to shave off population without making District 5 even larger. "They'll have to shave on the edges of Columbia," she said, to avoid dividing established communities like Elkridge.
Fox said he couldn't make any specific proposals now, but thought changes to boundary lines could be relatively minor. "We'll have to tweak it," he said.
But while it may be easy to achieve near numerical equality with a computer, the tough part is reaching political agreement, as each party and council member tries to protect their strongest voting base and perhaps chip away at someone else's. Since Democrats dominate the council 4-1, they will control the outcome.
Fox's Fulton home used to be in Democrat-dominated District 4, where he lost his first campaign for County Council. The last redistricting moved the boundary line and placed his home in District 5, where he has since easily won two elections.
Ulman continues fundraising
County Executive Ken Ulman may not be sure what he plans to run for in 2014, but he is sure he'll need more than the $440,000 he had left in his January campaign finance report. So he's holding another of his annual spring $100-per-ticket fundraisers March 22 at Turf Valley. Watson, who might try for the executive's job next time out, is having a $35-per-ticket event two nights later, followed in early April by an event held by Council Chairman Calvin Ball.
County elected officials often try to raise campaign money while the General Assembly is in session, since state legislators can't until the session ends in April.
Cummings gets face time
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings could probably win re-election just on the strength of his overwhelming support in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but the veteran Democrat spends considerable time and energy in Howard County, too. He represents most of the county, except for east Columbia and Elkridge.
Last Saturday he held a large event at Howard Community College that he called a "resource forum," which brought representatives of more than a dozen state and local agencies together so constituents who need advice or help with problems related to the economy could get it. He called it "Weathering the Storm in Tough Economic Times."
Although many of the more than 100 people who attended were connected to various agencies or politicians, William Organ, 52, from Middle River, said he drove over to see if he could find some way to stave off foreclosure on the home his family has owned for the past 12 years.