The recent publishing of proposed revised Howard County Council district lines has pushed me to try to finish this series before the new lines are actually adopted. So onward. . . .

As noted in part 12, 1990 saw the Howard County political scene shaken up by the election of Republican Charles Ecker as County Executive, accompanied by Republican Darrel Drown being elected to County Council to join Charles Feaga and cut the Democratic majority from 4–1 to 3–2. Since 1990 was also a census year, this led to one of the most interesting episodes in council redistricting history:1

March 1991. County executive Charles Ecker proposes appointing a committee to study the council redistricting issue. Council chair C. Vernon Gray expresses surprise at Ecker’s “bold move or perhaps naivete” in getting involved in what he considers solely a County Council function. Ecker disclaims any partisan motive in proposing the committee, a majority of which he would select (“I don’t check people’s registration [when making appointments]”), and says he’s just trying to “help and speed it along.”

(Michael J. Clark, “Ecker offers to help with redistricting, but council says no,” Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1991, 14B.)

May 1991. Charles Ecker proposes his own alternative redistricting plan to the County Council. The major proposed change is to Shane Pendergrass’s district (District 1 in southeastern Howard), which would lose several Democratic-leaning precincts in Columbia and pick up two precincts north of Route 175 that previously voted for Republican council member Darrel Drown. Pendergrass protests against what she considers a “Columbia-ectomy.” C. Vernon Gray comments, “We allowed [Ecker] to have some input and he has given it to us.” Charles Feaga concedes the plan is “just a beginning.”

(James M. Coram, “Ecker Plan Could Give GOP Edge,” Baltimore Sun, May 26, 1991, 1H.)

July 1991. The County Council begins work on redistricting with a focus on Shane Pendergrass’s district, which needs to be reduced in size due to relatively strong population growth. Republicans propose a plan that expands District 5 (western Howard) to touch all surrounding counties, and make changes to District 3 (east Columbia) justified based on preserving minority rights. “If Howard County’s map is taken to court for any reason, this is the map the court will draw” comments Carol Arscott, head of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, and notes that creating a minority district as part of the plan was “of primary importance.” C. Vernon Gray responds “I’m a little surprised that the No. 1 priority for Republicans is blacks, Asians and Hispanics.”

This is the second Republican-created plan (the first being the Ecker plan); Shane Pendergrass refers to the two plans as “outrageous” and “ridiculous.” The hearing is sparsely attended (by 22 people, including council staff); seven people testify including Glenelg High School sophomore Brian Meshkin, who shows up to present his own independently-created plan and receives praise from council members.

(“Battle Over County Redistricting To Focus On 1st District,” Baltimore Sun, July 10, 1991, 2H; James M. Coram, “Battle Lines Drawn,” Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1991, 1H.)

August 1991. By a 3–2 party line vote the Howard County Council gives preliminary approval to hiring former US Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti (at a discounted rate of $150 per hour and total fee cap of $25,000) to provide legal advice on County Council redistricting. Democratic council members also present a plan of their own; according to Lloyd Knowles, chair of the subcommittee that created the plan, its goal is to “provide a reasonable basis for Democratic districts” and “not . . . allow the Republicans to turn the county over to developers.”

Council Republicans characterize the Democratic plan as a “bad joke” (Charles Feaga) and a “blatantly partisan scheme” (Darrel Drown) and decry the move to hire Civiletti: “We could have sat down and reasoned rationally without spending 25K, but that is not something [the Democrats] are willing to do,” says Drown. Meanwhile former GOP House of Delegates candidate Arthur Reynolds criticizes his party’s proposal and accuses his fellow Republicans of acting like Democrats in supporting a “racial spoils system” and exhibiting “shameless opportunism” in “using the [Voting Rights Act] as a transparent vehicle to engage in GOP-inspired gerrymandering.”

(Michael J. Clark, “Howard council moves toward hiring Civiletti,” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1991, 3C; James M. Coram, “GOP scoffs at Democrats’ “outrageous” redistricting plan,” Baltimore Sun, September 1, 1991, 4H; Arthur Reynolds, “Redistricting follies,” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1991, 14H.)

September 1991. C. Vernon Gray unveils a Democratic redistricting proposal and wins support from other Democratic council members. Darrel Drown urges Charles Ecker to “veto it and throw it into the trash can,” as Ecker disagrees with Democratic council members and their lawyer Benjamin Civiletti over whether he in fact has veto power over the plan. (“I have veto power, and if I don’t like it, I will veto it,” Ecker vows.) Meanwhile Charles Feaga speculates that Shane Pendergrass cut a deal with the other two Democratic council members: “All three are considering a run for county executive, and you wonder if Shane agreed to step aside in order to get the district she wanted.”

The Demoratic plan also renumbers the districts, with the proposed new districts as follows:2

  • District 1. Ellicott City and Elkridge.
  • District 2. East Columbia, including the villages of Oakland Mills and Long Reach as well as nearby areas.
  • District 3. The rest of Columbia east of US 29, including the villages of Owen Brown and King’s Contrivance, as well as Savage and North Laurel.
  • District 4. West Columbia and nearby areas.
  • District 5. Western Howard.

(Michael J. Clark, “Democrats back Howard council redistricting,” Baltimore Sun, September 24, 1991, 3B; James M. Coram, “Feaga Says Redistricting Is Tailor-made For Democrats,” Baltimore Sun, September 25, 1991, 2H; Michael J. Clark, “Howard executive, councilman squabble over districts plan,” Baltimore Sun, September 27, 1991, 14E.)

In part 14 of the series the Democratic members of the County Council are challenged by the new political composition of county government, and scramble to find a solution.

  1. Beginning with this post I resume using the Baltimore Sun as my only reference for events and quotes, since only the Sun has online archives for the period in question. Starting in 1990 Sun articles are available both in the official Sun archives (which have the advantage of being easily searchable) and on a separate ad-supported site (which has the advantage of being free). For the convenience of readers I’ve linked Sun article titles to the free site but also included a separate link from the article date and page number to the archives, for those who already have an archive subscription or don’t mind paying extra to avoid advertisements. ↩︎

  2. The Sun article doesn’t describe the rationale for renumbering the districts; perhaps someone familiar with this round of redistricting can comment? In any case this renumbering was eventually adopted and the new district numbers continue to be used up to the present day. ↩︎