A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 22

In part 21 in this series we saw Democrats succeed in taking back both the Howard County Council and the county executive position from Republicans. In this post we see how that success translated into control over the council redistricting process, as the new redistricting commission scheme faced its first test.

December 2000. Facing a tight deadline for county council redistricting (with the 2002 council elections less than two years away), the Democratic and Republican parties prepare to name members to the seven-person redistricting commission. The Democrats publicly advertise for any party activists willing to serve, an action that surprises county GOP chair Louis Pope: You want people who understand the numbers, the issues and who can work toward a compromise. Both parties praise the new system as a better way to do redistricting than that followed in the previous cycle, in which conflict between the Democratic council majority and Republican county executive Charles Ecker degenerated into a lawsuit. Notes Maryland state delegate Robert Flanagan, At the very least members of the commission won’t be worried about their own [political] hides.

(Larry Carson, Parties will present names for redistricting commission, Baltimore Sun, December 14, 2000, 3B.)

February-March 2001. The two parties feud over appointments to the redistricting commission, as Republicans object to the Democrat’s choice of David Marker as commission chair, citing his actions during the early 1990s redistricting controversy and his public comments about working to produce a favorable result for Democrats. GOP council members Allan Kittleman and Christopher Merdon (representing Districts 1 and 5 respectively) propose instead appointing Carole Conors, president of the county chapter of the League of Women Voters, and take advantage of District 4 Democratic council member Mary Lorsung’s absence in Europe to force a postponement of the creation of the commission.

District 2 Democratic council member C. Vernon Gray fumes, This is nothing more than blatant partisan game-playing, while Marker acknowledges it as a good ploy by the Republicans to maximize their advantage. Meanwhile Conors protests that she wants to be on the commission to represent the League (We belong at the table) but not as chair, and the Columbia Flier worries about a return to the partisan bickering of the previous redistricting effort (If the council blows this job, the people—not the politicians—will pay the price.).

Back from Europe, Mary Lorsung is outraged that, unlike Republicans (who nominated B. Diane Wilson, aide to former Distrct 3 council member Dennis Schrader), Democrats did not nominate any women to the redistricting commission: Frankly, I thought we had gotten way beyond that. … One [woman] out of seven was just not acceptable. Trying to put an end to the controversy, Democrats add Lorsung ally Priscilla Hart to the commission, while still nominating David Marker as chair. District 3 Democratic council member Guy Guzzone notes that Republicans didn’t get rid of David Marker … [but they] certainly created a bit of anger within the Democratic Party, while Allan Kittleman and Christopher Merdon voice their approval of adding a Democratic woman to join GOP nominee Wilson (Kittleman: We agree with Mary [Lorsung] on that. Ms. Hart wouldn’t be there without Chris and I.). In addition to Marker, Hart, and Wilson, other nominees to the redistricting commission are Neil Quinter and J. T. Thornton for the Democrats and Michael Deets and Warren Miller for the Republicans.

(Michael Cody, Councilmanic redistricting again under the microscope, Columbia Flier, February 22, 2001; Larry Carson, Feud delays redistricting commission, Baltimore Sun, March 6, 2001, 1B; Council deadlocks on naming districting panel, Columbia Flier, March 7, 2001; Don’t let partisan strife again poison county redistricting, Columbia Flier, March 7, 2001; Larry Carson, Democrats add woman to redistricting panel, Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2001, 6B.)

April 2001. As the county council waits for another try at appointing the redistricting commission, local politicians speculate on the effects of Howard County’s population growth (an increase of 32% since the 1990 census, to 247,800 people) on its political clout in Annapolis (I would certainly hope that we will gain a whole legislative district for Howard County, says local Democratic chair Wendy Fiedler) and on the political balance between Columbia and the rest of Howard County (the growth that’s occurred [outside of Columbia] has got to help Republicans more than Democrats, says local GOP chair Louis Pope).

Relatively even population growth throughout the county means that only two council districts are outside the desired size of approximately 50,000 residents, with District 1 needing to become somewhat smaller and District 3 somewhat larger. However changes to District 1 and District 3 would force changes to other districts as well. Christopher Merdon anticipates a big counter-clockwise turn, in which District 3 would expand toward Columbia, District 2 would take part of Elkridge (splitting it with District 1), and District 1 might expand westward a bit into District 5.

District 3 incumbent Guy Guzzone looks forward to the possibility of having all of Owen Brown in his district, a move which would increase the chances of his retaining the seat. (Merdon concedes, They’ll probably try to make Guy’s [district] a little more Democrat to solidify that for the majority.) Local GOP chair Louis Pope also anticipates Democrats wanting to expand District 4 to remove from District 2 people angered by Guzzone’s position on rezoning of the Maple Lawn Farm property in Fulton. Meanwhile the council looks forward to approving the final composition of the redistricting commission.1

(Larry Carson, Census gains may bring more political power, Baltimore Sun, March 21, 2001, 1B; Larry Carson, Border shifts for districts may be small, Baltimore Sun, April 15, 2001, 1B; Michael Cody, Council districts likely to shift for next election, Columbia Flier, April 5, 2001; Larry Carson, Higher fire tax looking likely, Baltimore Sun, April 17, 2001, 1B.)

June 2001. The newly-appointed redistricting commission holds its first public hearing at Long Reach High School and almost outnumbers the audience, as only a handful of residents show up and only three of them speak. Why? Because there’s nothing to react against [yet], explains commission member Michael Deets, while fellow commission member Priscilla Hart concurs: We know it’s easier to react to a plan than to put one together. Of those speaking, Ken Stevens endorses re-unifying all of Owen Brown in a single district, Rosemary Mortimer recommends not splitting school districts across council district boundaries, and David Margolis expresses a hope the the process doesn’t get mired down in politics.

(Larry Carson, Residents speak out on redistricting, Baltimore Sun, June 27, 2001, 1B; Redistricting group hears from citizens, Columbia Flier, June 28, 2001.)

July 2001. As the redistricting commission gets down to the task of drawing up plans, redistricting commission member and Columbia Democratic Club president Neil Quinter presents his and the club’s proposal, which would (as previously discussed) move all of Owen Brown from District 2 (east Columbia/Jessup) into District 3 (north Laurel/Savage/southeast Columbia), move Dorsey’s Search from District 1 (Ellicott City/Elkridge) into District 4 (west Columbia), and extend GOP-dominated District 5 from western Howard eastward to encompass parts of the Fulton/Maple Lawn/Scaggsville area that were previously part of either District 4 or District 3.

They’re trying to get rid of areas bad for them, claims District 5 council member Allan Kittleman, a claim with which Maple Lawn Farms opponent Peter Oswald concurs: [There’s] a substantial amount of dissatisfaction with Guzzone on Maple Lawn Farms. … It is to Guzzone’s advantage to move that area to Kittleman’s district. Quinter defends the proposed plan (I’m not going to apologize for the fact that we’re trying to strengthen Democratic districts), while his fellow commission member Jared Thornton notes that at least Howard County is free of the pitched disputes over racially-related redistricting seen in neighboring Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties (In redistricting, Howard is sort of a boring county).

The Quinter/Columbia Democratic Club proposal joins four others championed by one or another of the commission’s members, two more Democratic plans (from chair David Marker and Priscilla Hart respectively) and two Republican plans (from Michael Deets and Warren Miller respectively). All three Democratic plans propose expanding District 3 northward to incorporate more of Columbia, while Deets’s plan takes the opposite approach and proposes a Columbia-free District 3; since Guy Guzzone lives in Kings Contrivance this would remove him from his district and put him into District 4 to compete for the seat being vacated by the retiring Mary Lorsung. By contrast Miller’s plan makes relatively minor changes to existing districts in an effort to keep them compact while still making Districts 3 and 4 more competitive for Republicans.

(Larry Carson, Democrats map plan for keeping majority, Baltimore Sun, July 26, 2001, 1B; Democratic club floats new council district map, Columbia Flier, July 26, 2001; Larry Carson, 5 plans offered for new districts, Baltimore Sun, July 27, 2001, 1B; Michael Cody, Rival redistricting plans seek an edge, Columbia Flier, August 2, 2001.)

In the next post we’ll see the outcome of the redistricting commission’s deliberations, and what the county council did with the commission’s recommendation.


1. Apparently the final council measure actually appointing the redistricting commission was noncontroversial; neither the Baltimore Sun nor the Columbia Flier saw fit to record the event of part of their county council coverage.