The Prince George's County legislative delegation wants the plan it drew up in Annapolis last session. Black leaders want a plan that would assure three or four black seats, and the County Council just wants a plan that will stand up under the one-man, one-vote test.
And in the middle of what promises to be a classic battle of conflicting interests are the five members of the special commission charged with drawing up nine new districts from the Prince George's County Council.
At stake in their deliberations is the future direction of the council, which controls the purse strings, tax rates, zoning and planning decisions of the county. The drawing of the council lines may result also in the final shakeout of the old Democratic organization shattered in the election of 1978, and determine the form of the new organization to take its place. Finally the lines will determine whether the county's growing black community will translate its numbers into increased representation.
The commission had three public hearings last week and will hold its first public work session today. Additional hearings are planned for August and the resulting plan will be given to the County Council by Sept. 15.
"I want to come up with the best possible plan," said commission member Ella Ennis. "If the council chooses to ignore us, there is nothing we can do but bring citizen pressure. But with 11 council members running for nine [seats] it is going to be hard to do," she said.
Once the council is presented with a plan, it wil have 70 days to amend or approve it. If the council takes no action, the plan will be approved automatically under the provisions of the charter amendment voted last November.
That amendment, Question K, repealed the present at-large voting for 11 council members, replacing it will a nine-member council elected from individual districts. Its overwhelming approval last November began a political struggle almost immediately.
The first incident took place in February when a majority of County Council members broke ranks with the recommendations of a caucus of elected Democrats, and chose their own members of the redistricting commission.
Accroding to one council member, the eight senators in the caucus simply wanted to ensure their control over the redistricting process. The caucus "blew up because a significant number of council people were not willing to fall back and be ruled by eight oligarchs," the council member said.
The senators' response was to begin redrawing the lines of the nine-member school board to reflect the population shifts in the 1980 census, required by law to be done in Annapolis in the year following the census. By drawing these lines first, the legislature would be able to pressure the council to set its lines with the same boundaries.
The Annapolis delegation did not expect to redraw the school board lines during the busy session because the census data was released only one week before it ended on April 13. But the school board members, aided by legislative staff members, quickly drew a plan to reflect the shifts in county population.
The county's three black legislators and their supporters, led by Sen. Tommie Broadwater, had hoped the redistricting would be done in the 1982 session. That would have allowed the County Council, considered friendlier to their interests, to draw its lines first. When the school board's plan surfaced, Broadwater and Del. Sylvania Woods scrambled to place their own plan before the legislators. Two days before the end of the session, however, the school board lines were approved despite a last-ditch filibuster by Broadwater.
The 1980 census figures showed the county to be 37 percent black but the existing school board lines have resulted in only one solidly black district, represented by board member Bonnie Johns. Two other districts, Jo Ann Bell's in District Heights and Angelo Castelli's in Oxon Hill, have moderate to slim black majorities while a fourth, represented by Susan Bieniasz and including New Carrollton and Bladensburg, is approximately one-third black.
According to Woods, the new school lines have increased the number of blacks in Johns' district while adding whites to Bell's and Bieniaz's areas, diluting black voting strength. They want the lines to ensure at least three black districts, with a clear shot at a fourth.
Commission member Thomas Hendershot agreed that the new school board lines likely would not yield more than one black member on the scool board or the council.
"There is a serious question in my mind whether [the school board plan] will result in more than one black member because it only takes into account population, not voter registration or participation," he said. "We have a council that's 25 percent black now. My question is what if that plan makes the council 11 percent black in a county that is 40 percent black? If that plan comes under court scrutiny . . . clearly we would not look good."