When College Park began council redistricting this summer for the first time in 16 years, Michael Canning, president of the University of Maryland Student Government Association and a member of the redistricting commission, lobbied hard for an all-student district.
But now Canning says he is forsaking the proverbial bird in the hand for the chance to get two students elected to the City Council this November.
Four redistricting plans were formally introduced last week, and although two of those plans provide for a student district, Canning said students can do better.
"The big trade-off is, do we want to make it easy or do we want to make things a little more difficult, with the possibility of far greater results?" he said.
Dubbed the Peck Plan for its designer, city secretary Patsy Peck, the plan Canning is now pushing divides the student population into two districts. According to current registration statistics, both of those districts would be dominated by the city's permanent residents. For that reason the student government is making plans for another registration drive.
A record number of students registered to vote last spring before the court-ordered redistricting began. But Canning says the 666 registered so far are just the beginning. "We haven't touched our potential yet, but they've saturated theirs."
Although it is estimated 10,000 U-Md. students live in College Park, nearly 90 percent of those who registered to vote live in the fraternity and sorority houses that border the city proper.
Student leaders credit this year's controversial Prince George's County fraternity zoning ordinance, which was initiated by a request from the College Park City Council, with generating far more interest than usual in voter registration.
Members of the university's alumni fraternity council, many of whom saw the county zoning bill as a threat to the Greek system's expansion, have promised to help Canning with the new registration drive. The alumni also are encouraging students to support the Peck Plan.
Redistricting was made possible in January after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the last appeal in a seven-year-old student lawsuit. The decision set in place a plan the Maryland Court of Appeals approved last summer allowing the city to base its lines on registered voters rather than census population.