Council plan to redistrict is criticized


A day after Baltimore County councilmen introduced a redistricting plan with a majority black district, critics charged that attempts by incumbents to preserve their home bases could hinder efforts to elect the county's first black council member.

The new district, which includes Randallstown, Woodlawn and part of Owings Mills, would be about 59 percent African-American and 36 percent white. But if only adults of voting age are counted, the percentages would be about even.

The American Civil Liberties Union objects to the plan and will introduce a proposal to generate a district with a higher black voting-age population. And state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Democrat from Randallstown who is African-American, said she plans to encourage community members to object to the plan at a public hearing.

Both the 1st and 2nd districts, which border the council's proposed new black-majority district, contain sizable black populations, witjh about 20,000 each.

Kelley said it appears that the incumbents in those districts, Stephen G. Samuel Moxley and Kevin Kamenetz, have created districts with enough Democratic-voting African-Americans to allow them to win general elections, and to fend off primary challenges by black candidates.

"What you can see is that persons who have partisan considerations also wanted to keep in constituents that are in their party," she said. "On the west side, we are registered as Democrats, and there are incumbents that think they need an African-American population to some degree to keep their Democratic numbers up. I can see that."

Deborah A. Jeon, an ACLU attorney, said that her group has drawn a map that includes a west-side district where blacks make up 64 percent of the voting-age population - just short of the 65 percent benchmark she said the Department of Justice used for years in creating minority districts.

'Racial fairness'

"We think racial fairness is of great importance in redistricting," Jeon said. "Baltimore County has a long history of not having minorities involved in the political process."

Kamenetz acknowledged that the district lines are drawn to help preserve incumbency and said that U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld the legitimacy of doing so. Furthermore, he said the new district has a slightly higher percentage of African-Americans than the 2nd District did previously.

"I'm hard-pressed to understand where any so-called leaders of the African-American community could raise objections where their percentage actually increased and they don't have an incumbent to run against," he said.

The proposed map was the product of weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations - and a process that concentrates power in the hands of the County Council, with less built-in public accountability, than in other counties in the Baltimore area.

If approved as proposed, the map would significantly change not just the racial politics but the patterns of representation for communities across the county.

Towson to be split

Towson, the county seat, would no longer be represented by a single voice. The huge rural expanses of the county will be lumped with aging suburban neighborhoods in some areas and booming new developments in others.

On the west side, activists have long been concerned about the effects of excessive growth: crowded schools, increasing population density, strained infrastructure, zoning conflicts and substandard developments.

"I think the majority of the issues have nothing to do with race. They have more to do with equity and the overall concern for the quality of life of the citizens in this area," said Ella White Campbell, president of the Liberty-Randallstown Coalition.

The plan would split Towson among three districts, and residents there said they're worried it will mean no one will be looking out for the entire community. Others said it would give Towson more influence because three members will have to pay attention to its interests.

That possibility became apparent almost immediately after the map was proposed Monday night when budget talks turned to expansion of the county jail, a contentious issue.

The council has agreed to add on to the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson, which is in the district represented by Wayne M. Skinner, a first-term Republican on a council run by multi-term Democrats. When the discussion Monday came to a $70 million appropriation for the project, Skinner, laughing, made a motion to cut the money.

Suddenly, Skinner had backup.

"I second," said T. Bryan McIntire, the north-county Republican whose rural district would absorb the northern part of Towson.

"I may have to third it, now that I have a piece of Towson," Kamenetz said.

The strained relationship between Towson University and surrounding residential neighborhoods illustrates possible problems posed by a divided Towson. Because the school doesn't have enough dormitory rooms, resident students spill over into nearby houses and apartments, generating trash, noise and parking complaints from residents.

Under the redistricting plan, the university would be in the 2nd District and many of the affected neighborhoods would be in the 5th District.

'It creates a huge problem'

"There's no doubt about it, it's going to be extremely difficult to deal with," said Whitney Dudley, a neighborhood activist who has crusaded for years against student rentals near her home. "It creates a huge problem for us."

The council will hold a public hearing on the plan next month, though it is not required. A vote is scheduled for June 18. Should the council approve the plan, it becomes law.

That's not how it works in other counties. County councils in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard appoint commissions to study census results and recommend redistricting plans, generally in the fall.

In Howard and Harford, county executives have the power to veto the plan the county councils approve.

In 1990, the Howard executive did just that. In Anne Arundel, the commission held four public hearings before it submitted its plan to the council in 1990.

"We're in a situation where there isn't any other entity which under our county charter can veto anything" and no public hearings are required, Kelley said.

"It really suggests that we need to take a look at the charter long before we get to this point again," he said.

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