Howard County's redistricting commission will sit down at a work session tonight to consider how councilmanic lines should be redrawn to reflect population changes recorded in the 2000 Census. But the Columbia Democratic Club isn't waiting. It's pushing a plan aimed at protecting its council majority.
Club President Neil F. Quinter, also a commission member, has released a suggested map for new council districts designed to strengthen the hold Democrats have on three of the five districts, while trying to unify communities split between two council districts.
Quinter and Frederic C. Cooper, a club member, said their plan moves the districts slightly in a counter-clockwise motion without making major changes.
"It doesn't do a radical attack," Cooper said of the plan.
The district boundaries must be redrawn each decade after the federal census to keep the districts approximately the same size after population growth and shifts.
The club's map is one of several expected to be presented tonight at a 7:30 p.m. meeting in the county's George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
To unify similar areas, the club proposes that Dorsey's Search in Columbia be moved from District 1, which includes the Ellicott City/Elkridge area represented by Republican Christopher J. Merdon, to west Columbia's District 4, represented by Democrat Mary C. Lorsung. Owen Brown, split between Districts 2 and 3, would be entirely in District 3, represented by Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel/Savage Democrat.
Western county Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman questioned a move that would extend his mostly rural District 5 east to cover the proposed Maple Lawn Farms mixed-use development and land east of U.S. 29 along Howard's southern border. Most of that area is in District 4, though some is in Guzzone's District 3.
"They're trying to get rid of areas bad for them," Kittleman said of the Democrats, who he claimed are "trying to pack my district with more Republicans. It's unusual that I cross [U.S.] 29," he said, noting, however, that it is not unprecedented.
'To Guzzone's advantage'
Peter Oswald, an opponent of the Maple Lawn proposal, agreed.
"It's apparent to me that there's a substantial amount of dissatisfaction with Guzzone on Maple Lawn Farms. He has been the key vote in allowing three mixed-use developments to move ahead at the same time. It is to Guzzone's advantage to move that area to Kittleman's district," he said.
Maple Lawn Farms is a proposed mixed-use development of more than 1,100 homes plus offices and retail stores that would be built on a turkey farm north of Route 216 in Fulton. A similar Rouse Co. project farther east, along Interstate 95, is also planned, as is a smaller one, called Cherrytree, along the Route 216 corridor.
Quinter defended his proposal, saying, "I'm not going to apologize for the fact that we're trying to strengthen Democratic districts."
Guzzone said the club is "going to do what it thinks is in the best interest of Democrats for the next 10 years. Their interest is much broader than me or any other candidate."
Merdon had no objection to moving Dorsey's Search, he said.
"I hate to lose any part of my district, but the numbers dictate it," he said, noting that the 2000 Census showed his district has more people than any other and was 5.5 percent over the ideal population figure. Courts have normally allowed a 5 percent variation in redrawing boundary lines.
Close to ideal figures
The Columbia Democratic Club proposal hews fairly close to the ideal district population of 49,568, except for the western county district, which would be 4.8 percent over that figure at 51,968. East Columbia's District 2, represented by Democrat C. Vernon Gray, would have the lowest population, 2.3 percent under the ideal figure, at 48,416.
In other changes, the CDC proposes moving Columbia Hills, east of U.S. 29, from District 1 to District 2, while placing the Centennial area west of Dorsey's Search in District 1 instead of District 5.
Warren E. Miller, a Republican member of the commission, said the GOP will also likely present a proposed map, though Republicans are outnumbered 4-3 on the commission and 3-2 on the County Council, which has the final say.
"I think clearly one of our goals is to get these districts as close to being the same size as possible. Being one vote shy of a majority, we have to be a bit more reasonable in our approach," he said.
Jared L. Thornton, another Democrat on the seven-member commission, said that at least three other maps are "floating around."
He said all of them depict "subtle changes" focused on keeping communities such as Owen Brown from being split between two districts.
"I'm looking in particular at the African-American vote," he said.
Thornton, who is black, said that Howard County has no predominantly black area, but he does not want black voters placed in a district where they might have little voice.
Howard County has escaped the kind of racially tinged redistricting controversies that have gripped Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, he noted. Few county residents attended two public hearings on the subject last month. The commission is to submit a recommended plan to the County Council in October.
"In redistricting, Howard is sort of a boring county," Thornton said, laughing.