- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

Blacks, Republicans and Democrats and community activists joined forces yesterday to loudly condemn the planned legislative redistricting of Maryland.
"I know we can do a better job with the talent we have here," state Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Prince George's County Democrat, told the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee during the final public hearing before Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Democrat, submits the plan to the Maryland General Assembly for approval on Jan. 9.
Over the past year, the governor's panel, comprising four Democrats and one Republican, met with people throughout the state to create the new legislative boundaries as mandated by last year's census results. The commission's plan, which was presented on Monday, took seats away from Baltimore City and Baltimore County, and shifted this representation to Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
"Many of you would not be here if it were not for the African-American voters in this state," said Mr. Exum, who is black.
U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, Republican and potential candidate for governor next year, agreed.
"There are two minorities represented in that room, the Black Caucus and the Republicans," Mr. Ehrlich said outside the hearing. He had come to listen to the arguments, but did not testify. "Both were treated equally during this process and both were treated very badly."
Yesterday, the commission, which was joined briefly by the governor, heard from witnesses from across the state complaining. Some wanted street blocks switched, others notably Crofton and Catonsville residents requested their communities not be torn apart.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan gave modest approval of the plan, but said more must be done.
"This map does not reflect the growth of Montgomery County," he said. "Forty percent of our residents are minority, yet this plan does not lend itself to electing more minorities ."
Montgomery County, in particular, is looking for a single-member minority district for its growing population. Since the last census, the county gained 116,314 residents, bringing its total population to just over 873,000 the largest in the state.
Elnora Harvey, a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, waited nearly four hours to tell the committee she thought they must have put the proposed plan together in a "smoke-filled room" because it did not reflect the needs to the region.
"New African-American residents continue to overwhelmingly register as Democrats and what we are getting in return in the redistricting process in Montgomery County is unacceptable," Mrs. Harvey said. She pointed to the preservation of the seat of state Sen. John Hurson, Democrat, as proof that the advisory council does not think there are any qualified minority candidates to run in the region. Mr. Hurson is white.
The most stinging criticism came from Baltimore Sen. Clarence Mitchell, Democrat, who is black. He was put into a district with Democratic colleague Sen. George Della, who is white.
"We have absolutely no obligation to be loyal to the Democratic Party," said Mr. Mitchell about possibly switching parties.
He said he might "teach them the Michael Bloomberg lesson," referring to the mayor-elect of New York City, a registered Democrat until shortly before the election. He switched to the Republican Party and won.
When Mr. Mitchell was asked to elaborate after his testimony, all he would say is that he is in discussion with Republicans.
He said his family, while always registered as Democrats, had always been fair and bipartisan. This proposed plan, he said, is neither.
Michael Steele, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, confirmed that his party had been holding conversations with Mr. Mitchell. Mr. Steele promised to contest the redistricting plans in court if they are not changed.
"We want to create a level playing field," he said. "We have been saying for a long time that the Democratic Party takes blacks for granted."
Other Democrats agreed.
"I will not be a member of the Democratic Party on January 10 if this is the way the party is going to operate," said Dale Mumford, mayor of Ridgely, Md., and the only representative from Caroline County on the Eastern Shore.
Under the plan, Caroline County would be the only county statewide not to have at least one representative solely from that jurisdiction.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Anne Arundel County Democrat and member of the panel, said he was satisfied with the plan and confident more minorities would be represented. He expects 90 percent of the recommendation to be accepted.
He also noted if more people were concerned, why weren't more members of the county and city delegations present for the hearing.
Several witnesses complained that the Friday before the long weekend preceding Christmas was not the right time to hold a hearing on this matter.
"The timing of this is a joke," Mr. Ehrlich said. "No one really thinks Parris Glendening cares or is listening now."

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