Little growth may mean few changes in Balto. Co redistricting

Public hearings scheduled for April

March 23, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County residents shouldn't expect to see many changes in council boundary lines, thanks to sluggish growth in most districts.

Only one district — the 4th, which includes Woodlawn and Randallstown — grew by more than 10,000 residents since 2000, according to recent census data. The 7th District, home to Dundalk and Edgemere, was the only district to lose residents — approximately 300 — in the last decade. Growth in other districts ranged from about 3,680 to 9,690.

The redistricting commission, appointed by the Democrat-controlled County Council, will hold three public hearings in April — the first time ever that residents will get to weigh in on changes to district lines. Voters approved the commission's formation in 2002 after public criticism over the lack of meaningful input from residents and community groups in the redistricting process. In the past, council members drew the new maps, and there was no requirement to hold public hearings. The county does not allow for an executive veto.

The commission will assess the population data from the 2010 census, hold public hearings and make recommendations to the County Council for redistricting by July 1.

Redistricting tends to be an extremely partisan effort, with the majority party and incumbents often controlling the outcome. In 2000, spurred by then-Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, council members redrew the map to create the first majority African American district — the 4th, represented by Democrat Kenneth N. Oliver — and to pit former council members Republican Wayne Skinner and Democrat Vincent J. Gardina against each other.

Council members said it's too early to say whether the panel will shift precincts to solidify strongholds, making it harder for first-term Republicans Todd Huff and David Marks to keep their seats. The commission's recommendations are non-binding.

"Whatever is done will be done fair and equitably," said Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District. "There's a process in place where the five-member commission will take community input and come up with a fair and reasonable map."

Marks said he's optimistic regardless of how the new map looks.

"I've shown an ability to get support from Republicans and Democrats," he said. "I'm confident that I can continue to perform well."

Baltimore County's growth over the last decade is mostly attributed to its minority population, continuing trends from the 1990s.

The county grew by about 50,740, and now has a total population estimated at more than 805,000 residents. The white population dropped 7 percent, from approximately 561,130 to 520,190. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population increased 145 percent to 33,740, up from about 13,770, and the Asian American population grew 67percent, from nearly 23,950 to about 40,080. The African -merican population grew about 38 percent, from 151,600 to about 209,740.

Oliver, the only minority councilman, said that despite the gains, it would be difficult to create another majority-minority district. The three districts with the most black residents combined just barely eclipse the number of African-Americans in the 4th District.

"Most of us are spread thin in the other six districts," he said. But "it doesn't mean it's impossible to elect another African-American."

The redistricting hearings will be held April 12 in Council Chambers at the old County Courthouse on Washington Avenue in Towson; on April 13 at New Town High School in Owings Mills; and on April 28 at Patapsco High School in Dundalk. The hearings will start at 7 p.m.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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