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Opponents promise to sue as Baltimore County Council passes redistricting map

December 7, 2021 protest in Towson against the Redistricting map approved Monday night by the Baltimore County Council. Credit: John Lee

The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved a controversial redistricting map Monday night.

Opponents of that map now promise they will see the county in court.

After months of hearings and protests, the council signed off on a map that has one Black majority district and a second district where non-whites make up a majority. The other five council districts have white majorities.

About 30% of the county’s population is black and nearly half is made up of minorities.

Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said he found the push by some groups to create more minority districts to be more divisive than inclusive. He and other council members have said communities would have to be split to do that.

“You just can’t start to zig zag lines through neighborhoods so that each neighborhood has a different local representative to their county government,” Crandell said.

But within minutes of the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland tweeted to the council, “We’ll see you in court. The Voting Rights Act isn’t optional.”

Ryan Coleman, the president of the Randallstown Branch of the NAACP said they, too, plan to file suit and seek an injunction to stop the map from being used in the 2022 election.

“I don’t believe that if you had seven Ku Klux Klan members making a map, they couldn’t make a worse map than the one we have,” Coleman said. “And that’s troubling.”

During Monday’s meeting, Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk defended the map, saying it meets the legal requirements.

“I think the maps are compact,” Quirk said. “I think they’re contiguous. I don’t see gerrymandering. I disagree that there’s some conspiracy or some other efforts out there.”

Six of the seven council members are white. Quirk said he believes with the approved map the council could become more diverse over the next ten years.

“But if they do go to court, I think this map stands strongly,” Quirk said. “I’m not concerned about that.”

The main complaint opponents have about the map is that one of the council’s seven districts, the fourth, remains more than 70% Black. They say that having only the fourth district so overwhelmingly Black dilutes the county’s African American vote. They want thousands of voters moved into an adjoining district to make that one majority Black as well.

Council Chairman Julian Jones, the council’s lone Black member, represents the fourth. He said his constituents told him they wanted to remain in the fourth. Jones chastised opponents of the map for thinking they know more than his constituents.

Jones said, “I just found it somewhat insulting to be quite frank that the people in my community voted for me, they had town hall meetings and they told me what they want.”

Under the map, all minorities combined make up a majority of voters in the first district which includes Catonsville and Arbutus. But just barely. White voters account for more than 49% of the first district’s voters.

Councilman Crandell said people from diverse backgrounds have the same issues within their neighborhoods. He called it “pothole government.”

“No one cares if that pothole is filled by a Democrat or a Republican, or a woman, or a person of some ethnicity,” Crandell said.

But the NAACP’s Coleman said the map passed by the council is so blatantly racist, it makes him wonder what else is going on in the county.

“What other discriminatory practices are happening in Baltimore County because this redistricting was right in your face,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski played no role in the redistricting process. But in a statement after the vote he said, “I share the concerns of community members regarding the map approved by the County Council. Opportunities for greater minority representation across all districts is vital. My administration remains focused on doing all we can to promote policies that expand diversity and inclusion across our County.”

Meanwhile, advocates in Towson got what they wanted from the map. They lobbied to have Towson moved into one council district It currently is split between several. The map does that.

Observers say it gives incumbents something, too. Democratic districts are more blue, Republican districts more red. That makes it easier for the incumbents to win reelection.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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