As DC's Redistricting Process Begins, Many Voices Weigh In

  • September 30th 2021

by Nena Perry-Brown

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In August, the U.S. Census Bureau released population counts for DC's wards, revealing an eye-popping resident boom in Ward 6 and much leaner population counts in Wards 7 and 8.

Now, the DC Council is kicking off its endeavor to restore some balance between the ward populations, known as redistricting.

On Wednesday, Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-Large) held the second of many upcoming public hearings of the Sub-Committee on Redistricting, and while few members of the public testified, the conversation seems poised to be a frank and lively one.

Based on the latest population count, each ward should have an average population of 86,193 people, although there is wiggle room of ±5%. Consequently, Ward 6 is on the hot seat in terms of whether or how it should be reconfigured to increase the population in Wards 7 and 8. The remaining five wards already have population counts within the acceptable range, although this does not mean they will not also be reconfigured.

Current ward boundaries, courtesy of the Office of Planning.

Just as concerning as population distribution is equity, as certain shifts in the ward boundaries could potentially undermine the political representation or power of marginalized groups.

"I think we need to be honest about the role race will play in this process," Councilmember Silverman stated in her opening remarks, noting that during the 2011 redistricting process, there were thinly-veiled racist comments made about potential boundary changes. ANC 6B Commissioner Corey Holman noted that the political pressure exerted during the last redistricting process contributed to the deep population disparities among the wards now, as some tough decisions were deferred.

2020 and 2010 Census population counts, by Ward. Click to enlarge.

Of the almost two dozen people who testified on Wednesday, many had thoughts pertinent to Ward 6 and their neighborhood's relationship to the ward.

Former ANC commissioner Alexander Padro suggested that the four Ward 6 census tracts that comprise "central Shaw" (roughly southeast of 11th and S Streets and northwest of New York and New Jersey Avenues NW) revert back to their prior Ward 2 designation. Long-time Hill East resident and former ANC commissioner Francis Campbell stated his opposition to portions of the neighborhood being designated as Ward 7, in part because of how it would make Ward 6 whiter and wealthier.

Matt LaFortune suggested that one option is to use M Street SW as a dividing line to designate the southern portion of Ward 6 as Ward 8, a non-starter for former ANC 6D commissioner Gail Fast, who asked that if any part of Southwest is relocated, that all of Southwest, south of Independence Avenue and between South Capitol and 14th Streets, be moved as a unit.

Conversely, Christopher Williams of the Southwest Voice asserted that Southwest should be moved to Ward 8 in order to amplify the voices of the neighborhood's vulnerable (and increasingly displaced) Black population. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen responded that the public housing resident leaders he has spoken to would prefer not to be in Ward 8. 

ANC 6A Commissioner Sondra Phillips-Gilbert stated that if her Ward 6 Kingman Park/Rosedale neighborhood were to be designated as Ward 7, there would be less attention given to their needs when it comes to crime and access to resources because they would join a ward where those needs are already prevalent. Antoinette Harper spoke on behalf of Delta Sigma Theta's Federal City Alumnae chapter to state that no one benefits if redistricting led to a higher concentration of residents with lower socioeconomic status in certain wards.

Another recurrent theme was whether ward redistricting will endanger the free parking privileges that come with the current residential parking permit system; however, Councilmember Christina Henderson (At-Large) plans on introducing a bill next week that would decouple parking from Ward boundaries in some way.

The Committee is expected to hold eight separate Ward-focused hearings before  presenting a proposal to the DC Council, which is expected to take their first vote in early December and pass a redistricting bill later that month. The Council, in partnership with the Office of Planning, has also released a redistricting tool the public can use to redraw Ward boundaries and submit them to the public record; over 50 maps have been submitted thus far.

After the Ward redistricting process is completed in December, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and associated Single-Member Districts will need to be reconfigured, ideally by next summer. 

See other articles related to: census, dc council, dc wards, population, redistricting

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/as-dcs-redistricting-process-begins-many-voices-weigh-in/18766.

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