5 plans offered for new districts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Five plans for new Howard County Council district boundaries were submitted last night by members of the county's Redistricting Commission - including one Republican proposal that would dislodge incumbent District 3 Democrat Guy J. Guzzone.

That plan, submitted by Republican member Michael J. Deets, would give the GOP a good chance to win control of the five-member council in next year's elections, since the removal of Guzzone would leave the pivotal District 3 without an incumbent.

Chances of that proposal being adopted are slim and none, however, since Democrats control the commission, 4-3, and the council, which has final say, 3-2.

Commission Chairman David Marker said he hopes to reduce last night's offerings to two or three plans for a vote at the next commission meeting Aug. 14. A public hearing would then be held in September on one plan chosen for recommendation to the County Council.

The three plans submitted by Democrats have minimal differences, though all seek to strengthen the party's grip on Districts 2, 3 and 4, covering Columbia and environs, while uniting several divided communities and leaving most Republican voters in Districts 1 and 5 - Ellicott City/Elkridge and the western county.

The Republican plans hewed closer to the ideal district population of 49,568, but Marker said he feels strict adherence to exactly equal district sizes isn't as important because population will change before the next election.

Republican member Warren E. Miller's plan showed compact districts, with Guzzone's district stretching west to U.S. 29, and south to the Prince George's County line, and District 1 losing part of Elkridge. West Columbia's District 4 would go south to the county line on the west side of U.S. 29.

Priscilla M. Hart, a Democrat, submitted a plan that would move District 1's boundary west to Bethany Lane and bring Guzzone's District 3 north to Waterloo Road, with Interstate 95 as a western boundary.

Another Democratic variation was revealed earlier by Neil Quinter, a commission member who is president of the Columbia Democratic Club. The club's map calls for pushing Guzzone's 3rd District a bit farther north, into Columbia and Guilford, while moving Fulton - the site of the controversial Maple Lawn Farms mixed-use development - from Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung's District 4 to Councilman Allan H. Kittleman's District 5. Republican Diane Wilson objected to the wide reach of Kittleman's proposed district in that plan, calling it "unreasonable."

Quinter's proposal would also move Dorsey's Search from Republican Councilman Christopher J. Merdon's District 1 to Lorsung's District 4 - uniting it with the rest of Columbia - while unifying Owen Brown Village in Guzzone's District 3.

Commission Chairman Marker also unveiled a proposal that pushes the east Columbia District 2 north into Elkridge, and Ellicott City's District 1 farther west. Guzzone's District 3 also would slide north.

This is the first year Howard County has used a redistricting commission - the legacy of a bruising two-year partisan redistricting battle after the 1990 census.

The commission is to recommend new County Council boundaries to the council by Oct. 15. The council has the final say. Council district boundaries must be redrawn after each federal census, to ensure equal representation after each decade of population changes.

Although there is no major redistricting controversy in Howard County this time, county Democrats are determined to consolidate their hold on the council - mainly by drawing lines that would help ensure re-election for Guzzone, who is often the body's swing vote on controversial issues.

The other two council Democrats, Lorsung and C. Vernon Gray, whose districts cover most of Columbia, are leaving office at the end of their current terms.

The 2000 Census revealed that two Howard council districts are beyond the 5 percent variation from the ideal normally allowed by federal courts. Guzzone's District 3 is 9.5 percent under the new ideal average population of 49,568, and Merdon's Ellicott City/Elkridge District 1 is 5.5 percent over the ideal.

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