Political Notebook: Fox creates alternative council redistricting plan

Greg Fox, the County Council's lone Republican and self-appointed "numbers guy," has created an alternative redistricting plan to the one Democrats on the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission favored.

"It does a good job of both balancing (the five council districts) and moving the least number of constituents," Fox said of his plan.

Fox's plan comes in advance of the normal legislative process for redistricting. Typically, the council members would not propose alternative plans or amendments to the commission's plan until after holding a public hearing on it. But Fox said he wanted his proposal to be a part of the discussion at the council's public hearing, which will be held Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. at the George Howard Building.

"We have a pretty long period of time where we can do it, but I think it would be good to do it on the front end rather than on the back end," he said.

The council has until March 15 to approve a plan, or the commission's plan becomes law.

The Redistricting Commission submitted a plan to the council in October. On a 4-3 party-line vote, the commission selected a map that would move nearly 26,000 residents — or roughly 9 percent of the county's population, according to the 2010 census data the commission used — to a new district.

Some of those residents are not happy at the prospect of being in a different district.

The commission's plan would move the Wheatfield and Brampton Hills neighborhoods of Ellicott City, located just north of Columbia, from District 1 to District 2. Several residents from those neighborhoods testified at the commission's public hearing against their neighborhoods being moved, arguing that their concerns align better with the Ellicott City residents of District 1 than the east Columbia residents of District 2.

Under Fox's plan, which would only move about 8,000 residents to a new district, Wheatfield and Brampton Hills would remain in District 1. Fox's plan also leaves District 4 untouched, including the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search, which is slated to move to District 1 under the commission's plan.

Fox said the only rationale the commission could have for moving so many people "is to try to have District 1 lean more Democrat."

In an earlier interview, Republican commission member Joan Becker said the Democrats on the commission selected a map that was drawn with the intention to "take as many Republicans out of District 1 and put them into District 2."

Democrat David Marker, the commission member who drew the map that was selected, said in an earlier interview: "It's not like everything is dripped in partisanship, but there is a partisan basis behind what happens."

Marker, who also sat on the committee during the 2001 redistricting process, noted that there have been seven elections since the five-member council has been elected by districts — three that resulted in a 4-1 Democratic majority, three in a 3-2 Democratic majority and one in a 3-2 Republican majority.

"The Republicans are drawing maps that would increase the chance of getting at least two Republicans elected," he said. "The Democrats are looking at ways to make sure that at least (three) Democrats get elected and possibly (four)."

The council currently has a 4-1 Democratic majority. The most competitive race in the 2010 election was for District 1. Democrat Courtney Watson, the incumbent, received 52.7 percent of the vote, while Republican Bob Flanagan, a former state delegate, received 47.2 percent — a 1,211 vote difference.

Under the committee's plan, District 1 would gain about 700 registered Democrats and lose about 300 registered Republicans, according to Board of Elections registration statistics from October.

Watson said the changes are unlikely to impact future elections because District 1 residents tend to vote for the candidate, not the party.

"District 1 is the only swing district in the county, and it will remain that way no matter what map is adopted," she said.

Watson trying to move up?

Given that District 1 is a swing district, the 2014 election could get interesting, especially if Watson chooses not to run for re-election. That's certainly a possibility, as political insiders — and even some outsiders — know Watson is considering running for county executive.

After Watson's most recent fundraiser on Oct. 26, Dennis Lane, the blogger of Tales of Two Cities, reported that "Watson made it clear that she will be running for county executive in 2014.

"After noting that 'she didn't see any reporters in the room,' she told her supporters that the time was right with the current exec likely moving up to a 'statewide office,'" Lane wrote on his blog.

In an interview the next day, Watson said she did not make an official announcement at the fundraiser about her plans for 2014.

"We have to start thinking about the future," she said. "And looking forward to seeing Ken Ulman move forward at the state level, I am giving consideration to it."

Ulman is term limited as county executive. In previous interviews, he has said he is looking at his options for 2014, including a possible gubernatorial run.

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