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New plan pits GOP's Bentley vs. McMillen Redistricting panel agrees on proposal that Schaefer likes


ANNAPOLIS -- With the Senate president vacationing in Ireland, the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee yesterday scrapped the congressional district plan he favored and replaced it with one that would pit incumbent Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, against Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd.

The new plan, which an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer said the governor backs, is to go before a special session of the General Assembly next Wednesday, but its fate is uncertain because of the last-minute changes. Mr. Schaefer had threatened to veto the previous plan, setting up a confrontation with the General Assembly neither side wanted.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, has not signed off on the revised plan and could force further changes if he positions the full Senate against it.

"All bets are off," said one legislator involved in the redistricting tussle. "I think we're at a deadlock."

With Mr. Miller overseas, the four remaining members of the panel met behind closed doors in Baltimore for more than three hours before emerging with their revision, approved on a 3-1 vote. A coterie of onlookers included Representative McMillen, Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, and an aide to Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd.

Former Delegate Donna Felling, a Democrat from Baltimore County on the committee, said she could not vote for the revision because it still split her home county among five of Maryland's eight congressional districts.

Nevertheless, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, another panel member, said he felt confident the revised plan could gain approval in the House of Delegates. He said he would not dare speak for its chances in the Senate. Neither Representative McMillen nor Representative Bentley said they liked the new plan.

Mr. McMillen had previously staved off several attempts by his colleagues to redistrict him out of a job and had emerged in the plan the committee unveiled Aug. 20 with most of his current district intact and without having to face another incumbent for re-election.

The new plan, by incorporating the Baltimore County precincts that lead from Sparrows Point and Dundalk up to Timonium and Lutherville, brought Mrs. Bentley's home into the district.

She called it "a ridiculous sliver." Like Ms. Felling, Mrs. Bentley said she objected to Baltimore County being broken into five parts.

But Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, was pleased. "This is better," she said of the new plan. "I felt the five counties of Western Maryland had to stay together."

Said Mrs. Bentley, "As far as my ability to run in the district and win, I probably could. But it still is a slap in the face to the people in Baltimore County, and I just feel most of the people of Harford County belong in the Baltimore regional area rather than the Eastern Shore."

Mr. McMillen said he favored the earlier plan because it was a partisan plan, one devised by the Democratic leaders of the state that pitted two Republicans, Mrs. Bentley and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, against each other in a predominantly Eastern Shore district.

He predicted that if Mrs. Bentley and Governor Schaefer -- her friend and one of her supporters in this effort -- were working together on a plan, "it will alienate the Democratic legislature and legislative leaders."

State Sen. John A Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, which is slated to hold hearings on a redistricting plan Tuesday, said he is uncertain whether he can support the latest proposal. He said he is concerned that it transfers 28,000 city residents into the Anne Arundel County district, thus dividing the city among three districts instead of the current two.

One source familiar with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering said that when Senator Miller was shown a version of the revised plan two weeks ago, he went "ballistic." The same source said Anne Arundel County senators now may filibuster the plan, fearful the GOP is encroaching on their heavily Democratic environs.

Benjamin L. Brown, the committee's chairman, defended the revision, saying it would be "more satisfactory" to Mrs. Bentley than the original plan and would solve Representative Byron's concern that her district would become too wide by stopping its thrust east at the Baltimore County-Harford County line.

Proposed districts

* 1st: all of Eastern Shore, all of Harford County and a small portion of northeastern Baltimore County.

* 2nd: a new "minority district" composed almost entirely of Prince George's County precincts adjacent to Washington plus small portion of neighboring Montgomery County.

* 3rd: a backward-C-shaped district stretching from Baltimore County north of Baltimore, down the east side of the city, then southwest, deep into Howard County.

* 4th: all but southernmost portion of Anne Arundel County, jumping across Patapsco River to include Dundalk and Sparrows Point and a line of precincts in Baltimore County north to Timonium and Lutherville.

* 5th: the three Southern Maryland counties of St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles, the southern tip of Anne Arundel, the southern, western and northern edges of Prince George's and a small northeast corner of Montgomery County.

* 6th: all of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties and the northern half of Baltimore County.

* 7th: the center of Baltimore extending west into Baltimore County and north into Baltimore County along the border with Carroll County.

* 8th: most of Montgomery County and western and southern parts of Howard County.

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