Under the redistricting plan that the Prince George's County Council passed last Monday, one council district (VII) along the D.C. border, was described by council member Sue Mills as "the longest, skinniest sausage in the world."
Another council district centered in Largo rambles from Lanham Heights in the northeast to District Heights south of Central Avenue. And the Bowie district looks like the griffin that ate Greenbelt, which politically it did.
"Communities lacking common interest are placed together," complained Greenbelt Mayor Richard J. Castaldi about the shotgun wedding of liberal Greenbelt with the conservative and politically dominant Bowie. "I don't want you to think this is going away," he threatened the few council members who showed up for a hearing on the plan last week. "Our feelings are strong and uncompromising on this."
There is no question that the shrinking of the council from 11 at-large seats to nine single-member districts was political from the beginning. The question is whether the plan, crafted by three men chosen for their ties with a bent but not yet broken Democratic organization, will provide fair representation for all county residents.
The county chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is considering a suit in federal court because the plan is likely to yield only two black council members -- 22 percent representation on a nine-member council versus the present 27 percent, a clear dilution of black voting strength. Proportionate black representation was supposed to be one of the three critical elements in forging a plan, its authors said in the beginning. But in the end they decided they could not design three winnable black seats for 1982.
Instead they drew two black seats with 69 and 80 percent black majorities they say are necessary to overcome low voter turnout and a population skewed toward adolescents. The lines also were drawn around the homes of black incumbents Deborah Marshall and Floyd Wilson. Critics of the plan rallied around an alternative drawn by south county Republican Ella Ennis that would have created three districts of 60, 66 and 75 percent black population. But Wilson said his district would not be black enough at 60 percent.
"Being selfish, (the Ennis plan) takes (away) the very essence of what it takes for me to get elected," Wilson said at a public hearing last week with Marshall at his side, nodding agreement. Marshall, Wilson and black redistricting commission member Wayne Curry have long-standing ties to state Sen. Tommie Broadwater, the linchpin between county Democratic powerbrokers and the black community.
"I think they're selling short the intelligence of the black voters in this county," said Ennis, a possible candidate for the council.
"They ought to put the flag at half mast, because at this point good government is dead," said the Rev. Perry Smith, an all-but-announced candidate for the 5th Congressional District seat and a Broadwater critic. But Smith, pastor of one of the county's largest black churches, was conspicuous as the only well-known black to criticize the plan.
In fact, only the well-organized Greenbelt community and some south county civic groups turned out to oppose the plan at the mid-morning public hearings last week. And with the exception of a roster of local mayors, no one turned out to support the plan either, allowing some council members to ignore opposition and vote their self interests on three alternative redistricting plans last Monday. Two of them drew votes more for the record than for effect, while the third, the commission plan with a small amendment, was preset to win.
Council member Ann Lombardi, who will face a tough incumbent, William Amonett, in her newly drawn district, pushed the Ennis plan. Lombardi stressed the fact that its three districts south of Pennsylvania Avenue would give fair representation to the virgin south county land otherwise ripe for development. South county members Sarah Ada Koonce and Sue V. Mills supported the plan.
But Frank Casula complained that the Ennis plan put his south Laurel precincts in Bowie. Council chairman and county executive candidate Parris Glendening, mindful of the wrath of south Laurel as well as parts of his Hyattsville base not treated well by the plan, also voted against it. The remaining voting council members, with the exception of David Hartlove, had districts drawn to accommodate them in the commission plan and also voted Ennis down.
Council member Amonett decided to abstain from voting altogether.
A third plan, ironically drawn by a Broadwater-backed committee to maximize black representation, was introduced by Mills, the longtime busing foe and council outsider who was utterly cut out of her home district under the commission plan. Its authors had repudiated it in favor of the politically acceptable commission plan. It received only two other votes.