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Balto. Co. Council redistricting plan likely to help incumbents

The partisan profile of the Baltimore County Council would be strengthened and several neighborhoods once torn among districts would be knit back together under a proposal advanced Wednesday by a committee established to redraw the county political map to reflect population changes since the last census.

"I think both parties hold up well" in the proposed map, said Ed Crizer, who headed the five-member commission that's been working for months on the new map, holding three public hearings in April and finishing its work in time Wednesday with a unanimous vote sending the recommendation to the County Council. "It's a highly political process. Everybody was weighing in. "

Of the several proposed district line adjustments, the one that seems to have drawn the chief objection comes between District 4 — the minority-majority district on the west side — and its neighbor to the south, District 1. The proposal calls for a Woodlawn precinct to move from District 4 to District 1, taking with it the Social Security complex and about 6,000 residents, most of whom are African-American.

"I'm totally opposed to it," commission member Ralph Wright, who lives in the Woodlawn area of District 4, told the panel Wednesday. "It's skewed the wrong way."

Wright agreed to vote for the proposal only after the panel consented to have a note of his objection included in the commission's report to the council, which has until January to approve the plan. The new map would not take in effect until the election of 2014.

Democratic Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, who was elected in 2002 as the first member for the newly established minority District 4, did not return a call seeking comment for this article, but he told The Baltimore Sun earlier this week that he was not happy with the proposed change.

"Are they going to redraw the lines where Woodlawn — a big economic engine — would be taken from me altogether?" said Oliver. "Something's wrong with this picture."

Councilman Tom Quirk, the Catonsville Democrat representing District 1, said he was confident a solution could be worked out. He said he thought the change made sense.

"You're uniting Security Boulevard, you're uniting the business corridor" in one district. "It makes the district compact and contiguous." Now, he said, his district "almost looked like a puzzle with a piece missing."

Quirk said the change also makes his district "more diverse. I think that's probably what the commission was looking at."

By bringing in thousands more African-American voters, the shift would may also make District 1 — which now has a Republican and conservative Democratic stronghold south of U.S. 40 — less likely to elect a Republican council member.

Still, one of two Republicans on the seven-member County Council, David Marks of Perry Hall, who represents District 5, said he likes the proposal.

"It's not a perfect map, but I think it makes some improvements," said Marks. He said he was pleased that Towson remains intact, and Perry Hall will be consolidated in his district rather than split with a neighboring district. He will lose a Democratic-leaning area of Hillendale area to District 6, now represented by Democrat Cathy Bevins, and gain the Republican stronghold of Kingsville, which is now in District 3. Bevins also gains White Marsh, a Democratic-leaning area now in Marks' jurisdiction.

Reisterstown, now split among Districts 2,3 and 4, would almost entirely be consolidated in District 2, represented by Democrat Vicki Almond, although a portion would remain in Oliver's district.

"Reisterstown is my hometown. I'm very glad to have it back," said Almond, who predicted that the proposal would win council support.

"I don't see anything that wouldn't be likely to pass," she said.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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