While County Council elections by district long have been seen as a means of equalizing minority representation in local government, the black community in Anne Arundel County is split on the issue.
George Phelps, a well-known black businessman, has appeared at several debates to argue for district elections, but Jean Creek, president of the NAACP, said she sees the district election effort as an attempt by the Republican minority to gain ground in this Democratic-controlled county. The NAACP has not taken a formal position.
The push here to replace countywide elections with district races originated with members of the Republican Party, although both sides of the debate claim bipartisan support. Six out of seven members of the all-Democratic council oppose the proposal, which will appear on the ballot on Nov. 6.
Only Theodore Sophocleus -- who unseated the council's only black member two years ago in the county's first district primary -- supports the change.
Opponents of the proposal contend that it would return the county to the back-room deals and fiefdom rule known here two decades ago under the county commissioner system. Parochialism, not good government, would be the result, they warn.
But proponents, who collected more than 16,000 signatures to place the issue known as "Question C" on the ballot, note that the county commissioners controlled all local government functions -- including those now reserved for the county executive. They argue that politicians elected from their individual districts would be more responsive to their constituents.
Debate over the advantages of district elections of council members began more than a year ago in Anne Arundel, before David G. Kelley, a Republican and defeated state office seeker, circulated his first petition. Most politicians now believe district elections will be approved by voters because of what has come to be known as "the responsiveness issue."
But the choice in Anne Arundel may be more confusing than similar questions in Howard and Montgomery counties: Opponents of district elections succeeded in getting a second question, Question B, on the ballot in an attempt to revert to the county charter's original system of countywide primaries and general elections. Currently, under a 1980 compromise approved by voters, council members are nominated by district and elected countywide.
If both measures should pass, Question C would prevail.