The carving of political turf in Prince George's County has begun in earnest, and while a special redistricting committee has at least two more weeks to complete its task, one thing already is certain: No matter how the maps are drawn, at least four incumbent Democrats on the County Council will be forced to run against each other next year.
That fact, the inescapable result of a charter amendment approved by the voters last year reducing the council's size from 11 to nine members, has sent the 11 Democratic incumbents scrambling for support from the redistricting commission. The commission's five members, three Democrats and two Republicans, represent a variety of factions in this most political county.
The two Republicans, Ella Ennis and former county executive William Gullett, were expected to take care of their party's interests in a county where every officeholder except County Executive Lawrence Hogan is a Democrat. Ennis, who lives in Fort Washington, was also expected to seek greater representation for the southern third of the county.
Democrat Wayne Curry, a black Forestville lawyer with strong ties to state Sen. Tommie Broadwater and to council member Deborah Marshall, was expected to look out for the interests of the county's growing black population. Hervey Machen, a former congressman who has long carried the water for the party establishment, was to be a trusted placemark for the wishes of the Democratic organizaton.
And New Carrollton lawyer Thomas Hendershot, a labor man and close associate of council member Gerard McDonough, was expected to protect the interests of his friend.
So far, the work of the redistricting commission has gone precisely as expected. Four plans have been produced and prepared for public hearing, two actually drawn by commission members and two by outsiders, and each reflects the special interests of commission members and their political patrons. Each plan is guaranteed to remove at least two incumbents from office, but it is already obvious that some council members are more vulnerable than others.
Liberal Ann Landry Lombardi is likely to face difficult opposition in almost any plan because she lives in the conservative, rural Marlboro area. Sarah Ada Koonce, council member from Camp Springs, would also have a tough time because she lives within three miles of two more active and prominent members of the council, David Hartlove and William Amonett. And Sue Mills, more popular with the voters than with her colleagues, could very easily be placed in a majority black district, where her antibusing stands would do her little good.
But since the redistricting effort requires only a simple majority of support from the council, the mapmakers at this point are more interested in forming six-member coalitions than appeasing all 11 incumbents.
One plan, dubbed "X" by its author, council administrator officer Samuel Wynkoop, creates four safe seats for incumbents Frank Casula (Laurel), Parris Glendening (University Park), Floyd Wilson (Landover) and Gerard McDonough (Largo). A fifth seat in the Bowie area would be open for incumbent Roy Dabney to run from, although most observers doubt that Dabney, who is black, could get elected in the 90 percent white district.
Wynkoop has doubts about his plan because among other things it does not provide sufficiently strong prospects for more than one black seat. "Some elements will survive," he predicted. "But it will not make it through the commission or the County Council."
A second plan, drawn by commission member Hendershot at his beach side retreat after he, "decided to look under the water and consult with King Neptune," begins with a banana-shaped district that snakes from Casula's Laurel home, through Bowie and into Lombardi's Marlboro residence, joining independent and Republican-leaning Bowie with predominantly white and also conservative Laurel. It also creates two majority black districts around the apex of Southern and Eastern avenues, thought to be sure bets for incumbents Deborah Marshall and Floyd Wilson.
Hendershot and others concerned with black representation maintain that a sure black district must have at least a 70 percent black majority to offset low voter turnout and a higher proportion of children. And that is the aim of his plan, which he feels is essential for maintaining Democratic control of the county in future years. Says he: "The fact of the matter is that blacks are the largest chunk of the Democratic coalition in the county."
Hendershot also makes no secret of his friendship with McDonough. His plan cuts a 38 percent black seat that is centered around McDonough's Largo home base but dips south and east to include predominantly white District Heights. Asked if he thought it was an ideal seat for his friend to run in, Hendershot replied: "Well, of course I don't want to hurt him, why should I?"
The "Neptune" plan also has a decidely northern flavor to it. It puts almost the entire rural southern third of the county into one district that sprawls "from the Potomac to the Patuxent," said commission member Ennis in criticism.
Her own plan, the Republican concept of redistricting, is the only one that creates two predominantly rural southern districts. She argues that this relatively undeveloped section of the county is in need of more representation. "The County Council determines who will have transportation, whether you will have a sewer system, and whether there will be undesirable development in an area," said Ennis. "Crucial decisions will be made in the next few years."
The fourth plan was drafted by a group of blacks under the aegis of Broadwater with the goal of creating three seats either represented by blacks or someone responsive to a black constituency. This plan is similar to Hendershot's Neptune plan with a few key differences. The Hendershot plan helps the black politicians in that it makes a stronger district for Deborah Marshall. The Wynn-Smith plan, named for its primary drafters, Consumer Protection Commission director Albert Wynn and Glenarden City Councilman Dennis Smith, would place incumbent McDonough in an 80 percent black district in which Floyd Wilson also happens to live.
Dates for the public hearings on the four proposed redistricting plans are Aug. 31, 8 p.m., at the Surrattsville-Clinton Library, Sept. 1, 8 p.m., at the Hyattsville Library on Adelphi Road and Sept. 8, 8 p.m., at Fairmont Heights Library.