Redistricting in DC Roils Wards 6, 7 and 8

Redistricting in DC Roils Wards 6, 7 and 8

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Frances Campbell is a firm believer in elected officials heeding the concerns and interests of those they serve, but during this redistricting process, he said, Ward 6 residents have been ignored.

The District’s plan to move a section of Ward 6 into Ward 7 has left the 60-year-old incensed.

“We have done a remarkable amount of work so far, things turned around and the quality of life has improved,” said Campbell, a five term ANC commissioner.

“There was a time when we had assaults and murders and now that we have turned all this around, they want to come and take a piece of the ward.”

“They basically gutted Ward 6. Our voice will be diluted, minority ANC representation will be diluted and we will become a peripheral part of Ward 7.”

Campbell said Ward 6 has issues that are indigenous to that area that are different from those Ward 7 residents are dealing with.

“We have nothing in common with Ward 7,” said Campbell, a retired respiratory therapist and Amtrak employee.

“What they’re proposing will directly impact our way of life but Jack Evans told us it’s not an issue for them.”

Despite vehement opposition by residents and entreaties to city officials to find a less divisive method to regroup the wards, Campbell said the plan is to proceed after the City Council voted for the draft report submitted by the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole Subcommittee on Redistricting.

Every decade, redistricting pulls off scabs to expose the volatile mix of race, class, economic and social issues lying just below the surface. People who live in a ward are usually loathe to change and the level of anger rises if more affluent areas are conjoined with the less wealthy sections.

In this go-round, anger and bromide are spilling over in predicable ways: Accusations of gerrymandering have been tossed about; Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry threatened a lawsuit; Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Council member angrily questions the propriety of Jack Evans’ involvement in redrawing the ward boundaries; residents in Ward 6 have held rallies; others crowd hearings and yet more meet and strategize on ways to keep their neighborhoods intact.

Yet, Evans, 57, maintains that unlike in the past 20 years, the process this time has been less divisive.

“This has been the least contentious,” he said. “Ten years ago, so many people were upset because we had so many changes. The only area where we’ve gotten the most negative reaction is in the Hill East neighborhood by RFK Stadium. They don’t want to go to Ward 7. And people in Shaw are not happy about leaving Ward 2.”

The three-member subcommittee developed the draft proposal after conferring with council members, said Subcommittee Member Jack Evans. The redistricting plan is supposed to be a palliative that accounts for the population shifts in the city over the past 10 years. An approved plan would bring the District into compliance with federal guidelines governing the number of residents that legally can be within the borders of a ward.

There are currently 601,000 people living in the District of Columbia and that number has to be divided between all eight wards. That translates into 75,000 people per ward, give or take five percent. In actuality, a ward could have as few as 72,000 residents or as many as 78,000.

In its simplest terms, the committee comprised of Evans (D-Ward 2), Michael Brown (I- At Large) and Phil Mendelson (D- At Large) had to devise a plan to pull residents from Ward 2 and add residents to Wards 7 and 8. Since Ward 2 shares no borders with Wards 7 and 8, that means Wards 5 and 6 would be the likely areas to pull excess residents from.

“I know the perceptions. We looked at all the options,” said Evans, who has been on the council for 20 years.

“The three of us met individually with each council member and asked what they needed. Council member Barry wanted to come across the river … and Council member Wells wasn’t going to give up a single inch of Ward 6.

“He walked out of the room and that was the last we saw of him. That wasn’t helpful,” Evans said.

In hearings, Wells argued that Ward 6 did not have to change at all to reach the population figures in each ward. But if the draft plan is approved on June 7, the ward stands to lose about 9,500 residents. Wells is particularly vocal about the conflict of interest of having someone on the subcommittee (Evans) who will directly benefit from the redrawing of wards.

Wells is also concerned that a proposed line that would divide 17th Street in Northeast between Pennsylvania Avenue and Benning Road, split the neighborhood and the ANC, disconnect one side of the street from the other, adversely affect school planning, neighborhood issues and cause other disruptions.

Wells was able to convince the subcommittee to leave Eliot-Hine Middle School and Eastern High School in his ward.

Ward 8 gained residents by adding the eastern section of the Fairlawn neighborhood which currently sits in Ward 7.

Campbell said he remains concerned that his diverse and cohesive neighborhood will be carved up.

Such a plan would diminish the hard work done so far and jeopardize the work and planning that has gone into Reservation 13, a block of real estate that includes D.C General Hospital, the D.C. Jail, and the old morgue. The community has spent the past 10 years seeking competitive bids, working with developers and dealing with zoning, size, scale and density issues as they try to find the best use for the land.

“All the way around they screwed us,” said Campbell.

“They have to realize that if they got voted in, they can get voted out. Evans said people will forget but we will not. I will do all that I can to ensure that not one of them regains their seats if they vote for this plan.”