Three disparate maps of proposed council districts are now on the table for the Harford County redistricting commission to evaluate and, eventually, recommend to the county council.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the mayors of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace made their case for combining the cities into one council district, reasoning that the two communities are materially similar and would not compete for county resources if they shared a representative who understood their mutual priorities and issues.
But the cities’ were not the only ones to present; commissioner Erik Robey unveiled a map that would put more Democratic-leaning Havre de Grace in the conservative northern district of the county and slot parts of Hopewell into the same district as Aberdeen. Commissioner Wayne Goddard also presented a map that would put all of Bel Air in one district instead of its current split between Districts C and E.
The commission will begin deliberating on its recommendation to the county council Monday, but municipalities and citizens have until the end of Monday’s meeting to submit comments and suggested changes.
The county charter mandates that districts be reestablished every 10 years, and tasks a five-member commission of two Democrats, two Republicans and one unaffiliated voter to recommend a plan to the county council, which has final say on where the lines are drawn. Their report is due by Oct. 1.
The application used to make the maps presented Wednesday, Dave’s Redistricting, shows that Democrats should win two seats on the council proportional to their population in the county. Robey’s map makes the likely number of Democratic-held seats 0.9, the application states.
According to the software, the cities’ proposal would make their combined district almost equal in Republican and Democratic-leaning residents, according to composites of voters in multiple elections. The redistricting tool ranks that map as more competitive than the current council map. Currently, Andre Johnson, representing District A, is the only Democrat on the council. If the cities’ combined district were approved, it could be easier for Democrats to gain another seat on the seven-member body.
Mayor of Havre de Grace William T. Martin said partisanship did not enter into the map the city and Aberdeen proposed. The cities were attempting to place similar communities together in a compact and contiguous district, drawing the map before filling in the demographic information, Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said. McGrady is on the county’s Republican Central Committee, and Martin is a Republican, though Havre de Grace’s municipal elections are strictly nonpartisan.
“This is what a redistricting map is supposed to look like from a good government perspective,” McGrady said at the meeting.
Robey said his proposed changes would not give the cities everything they want — chiefly, both cities in the same district — but would go toward solving issues Havre de Grace expressed in a June letter, noting that the district’s contiguity is in question. He agreed with Martin, and proposed the Susquehanna River be a natural boundary when moving it into District D.
Martin’s June letter also showed preference for keeping Havre de Grace in its own district, Roby said. The city’s position changed by late August when the cities’ joint district was announced at a meeting of the Aberdeen City Council.
Putting Havre de Grace in District D, Robey said, would also help even out the populations of District D, which is on the lower end of council districts. He said he made his recommendations based on testimony before the commission, reading back on 2001′s redistricting plan, attending community advisory board meetings. He said no special interests prompted him to make those recommendations.
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“It does not give them Aberdeen and Havre de Grace in one council district, but it does address a lot of the concerns especially that mayor Martin and mayor McGrady have talked about.
Legislative liaison for Havre de Grace Adam Rybczynski said the city opposed Robey’s proposal, finding the city’s placement in a rural district “not appropriate.” He said it will continue to work with Aberdeen “to advocate for fair redistricting proposals, which keep communities with similar interests intact.”
Aberdeen and Havre de Grace both support the map they jointly proposed, arguing it would give them a more consistent voice on the council. Martin said citizens felt unheard in District F, which also encompasses Abingdon, Creswell, Cedarday, Riverside, Belcamp, Perryman and part of Aberdeen Proving Ground. Because those communities had different priorities and issues than city residents and outnumbered them, their concerns could weigh more heavily on the council.
McGrady said that Aberdeen suffers from the same numerical issues as Havre de Grace, and its representative on the council, Robert Wagner, does not live in the city.
To that end, the two cities collaborated to produce a redistricted map and submit it to the commission. While the largest change to the map is the combining of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace in the same district, the cities proposed compact, contiguous maps for other districts as well.
Martin said the existing District F is probably not contiguous which is required by the county’s charter. The city was not connected by land to the rest of its district and instead cut over a stretch of water at Havre de Grace’s southern end to connect to APG.
The commission is scheduled to meet on Sept. 20, 22, 27, and 30.