SALISBURY -- Eastern Shore lawmakers, politicians and residents last night offered a five-member gubernatorial redistricting committee some advice: Don't mess with the 1st Congressional District.
Democrats and Republicans alike, among the 100 in attendance, urged the committee to keep both the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland together in one district, saying the two largely rural areas share similar problems and concerns.
"The present system for the 1st Congressional District is working quite well," said state Sen. Lewis R. Riley, R-Wicomico, saying the two areas "share the same philosophy."
Mr. Riley alluded to speculation that state Democratic leaders would carve out a new district for Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, that would include Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties, now in the 1st District.
Mr. Hoyer's current district, which has a high percentage of blacks, would be used to create a new minority district. Democrats and Republicans agree the sharp increase in theblack population in Prince George's County requires a minority district under the guidelines of the Voting Rights Act.
Mr. Hoyer, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, keeps Maryland awash in federal funding.
Therefore many Democrats want to keep a "safe seat" for him.
Political leaders speculate that what remained of the 1st District would be joined with that of Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, whose district is largely Anne Arundel County, or Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, whose district is made upmostly of Baltimore County.
State Republicans have come up with a redistricting plan that would forge a new minority district in Prince George's and Montgomery counties but not carve out a new one for Mr. Hoyer.
Most districts would only change slightly under the GOP plan.
A district should not be created for "certain people, namely Congressman Hoyer," said Mr. Riley.
"I hope you will not sacrifice the 1st Congressional District for any one individual," he said.
Richard C. Insley Jr., chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Wicomico County, echoed those concerns.
He said the Eastern Shore district should not include "the urban areas on the Western Shore."
The five-member committee, which will make recommendations to the governor on the decennial redrawing of congressional lines, heldits first meeting at Wicomico Senior High School.
Another 12 meetings will be held throughout the state through July 18.
The state legislature in September is scheduled to vote on new congressional districts in time for the primary next March.
Speaker after speaker gave the same message in a dozen different ways.
William Russell, chairman of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, said keeping the
Eastern Shore together with Southern Maryland "makes a lot of sense," unless there is "an ulterior motive."
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent County and a member of the redistricting committee, declined to comment on the hearing, explaining that he was withholding all comment to the press until the process is over.
But one committee member, Norman M. Glasgow Sr., leaving the hour-long hearing, was overheard saying he was surprised at the bipartisan agreement.