The DC Council Redistricting Subcommittee unanimously approved its Final Redistricting Map on Nov. 18 realigning the city’s eight wards. The map makes major changes to Wards 6, 7 and 8. It transfers a portion of the Capitol Riverfront including Nationals Stadium to Ward 8. Simultaneously, it shifts a significant section of the eastern side of Capitol Hill, east of 15th Street to Ward 7. Kingman Park returns to Ward 6. The map is available at https://dcredistricting.esriemcs.com/redistricting/
Every 10 years, the DC Council redraws the boundaries of the city’s eight wards in the wake of the US Census. The District’s Charter fixes the number of wards at eight. The DC Code dictates that the city’s population must be apportioned equally (one person, one vote) among the wards, with no more than a 5% deviation permitted. Dividing the city’s 2020 population (689,545) by eight yields 86,193. To be legal, a redistricting plan must limit the population of each ward to between 81,883 and 90,504.
In the District, DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson appointed a three-member Redistricting Subcommittee consisting of At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I), At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds (D) and At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson (I) to develop a plan to overhaul the ward boundaries. This plan must secure a majority of votes on the committee and then be approved by a majority vote of the Council.
Under the DC Code, wards redrawn under redistricting must be “compact and contiguous.” The boundaries should conform as much as possible to those of the US Census tracts. This limits population exchanges to adjacent wards. In addition, Silverman stated at a Council hearing, the redistricting plan should avoid dividing “communities of interest” ‒ neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Hillcrest, Brookland or Georgetown.
“The key question before the Subcommittee was how to grow Wards 7 and 8, which are geographically separated by the natural boundary of the Anacostia River from the rest of the city (with the exception of a small part of Ward 7 which spans the Anacostia) while shrinking the population of Ward 6. Though the fundamental duty of redistricting is to rebalance the population to ensure every resident has an equal voice in government, any new political boundaries must be drawn in a way that does not dilute the voting strength of minority residents. The Subcommittee considered this principle greatly as it examined how to blend neighborhoods of varying racial and economic composition,” stated the Subcommittee in the press release accompanying its draft redistricting map.
The map was crafted “with an eye towards balancing “the legal requirement of equal representation with a strong interest in advancing the economic and racial diversity of the District’s wards while safeguarding the voting strength of Black residents east of the Anacostia River,” the Subcommittee stated.
The New Ward 8
The subcommittee drew a new Ward 8 to span the Anacostia River. The ward boundary crosses the 11TH Street Bridge. Thereafter, it follows I-695 west to New Jersey Avenue SE, taking a southern turn down to M Street SE. Finally, it heads west to South Capitol Street and south to the new Frederick Douglass Bridge. The new Ward 8 would have a population of 85,246, 83.2% Black.
Ward 8’s new boundaries, the Subcommittee stated, create “more racial diversity, though the addition of white residents does not dilute the voting strength of Ward 8’s Black residents. Additionally, this allows western Ward 8 to have enough population for a stand-alone Advisory Neighborhood Commission.”
The Subcommittee’s decision to orphan eleven census tracks located north of M Street SE, east of South Capitol, south of I-695 and west of New Jersey Avenue SE into Ward 6 quite clearly divides “a community of interest.” This area contains 4,291 residents, 449 of whom are Black. Including them in Ward 8 would have raised its population to 89,537, making it larger than Ward 2, the largest ward by population under the new map. With this addition, Ward 8 would be 79.75% Black, a reduction of roughly four percentage points, hardly material. Asked about the decision at their news conference announcing the map, subcommittee members attributed this strange bump out to “the math.”
The New Ward 7
The Subcommittee extended Ward 7 further across the Anacostia. The map shifts Kingman Park into Ward 6 along with the Fields at RFK, while simultaneously moving a significant section of Capitol Hill, known as “Hill East,” into Ward 7. The border between the two runs south along the Anacostia from Benning Road and then crosses the river at the East Capitol Bridge. Following C Street NE west to 15th Street NE, it turns south to Potomac Avenue SE. There, it heads southwest dodging the metro along I and K Streets SE before heading south crossing the 11th Street Bridge. There it follows the Anacostia River northeast to the Sousa Bridge. The new Ward 7 would have a population of 81,997, 83.91% Black.
The new boundaries of Ward 7, the subcommittee stated, promote “racial diversity but does not dilute the voting strength of Black residents in Ward 7. Additionally, it allows western Ward 7 to have the representation of an entire Advisory Neighborhood Commission.”
In drawing the new northeastern border between Wards 6 and 7, the Subcommittee created a strange elbow jutting out the Anacostia across Kingman Island instead of extending a cleaner line straight down 15th Street NE/SE from Benning Road. Their intent, members stated at the news conference, was retain the last two Black majority neighborhoods of Rosedale and Kingman Park in Ward 6. This decision seemingly violates their intent to create geographically compact wards.
Rosedale and Kingman Park collectively contain a population of 6,013, 61.77% of which is Black. Removing these two neighborhoods from Ward 6 reduces its population to 81,941, 22.87 of which would be Black, a reduction of 2.5 percentage points, hardly material. One could as easily argue that Kingman Park and Rosedale have stronger ties to the neighborhoods to their south than to their east.
The Subcommittee’s reasoning is particularly odd given their decision to move the majority Black neighborhood of Hill East just to the south to Ward 7. This area, whose population of 7,625 is 46.50% Black, has nearly as many Black residents as its northern neighbors and arguably stronger ties to Capitol Hill. A simpler solution would have been to draw the border between Wards 6 and 7 from Benning Road straight down 15th Street NE/SE to the Potomac Metro.
The Subcommittee’s decision to retain Kingman Parka and Rosedale in Ward 6 likely created another oddity on their new Ward 7’s southern border. They chose to extend the ward south of Pennsylvania Avenue SE along the Anacostia to 11th Street SE and then north of I-695 from the Potomac Metro along Potomac Avenue and K Street SE. A total of 1,515 individuals live in this racially mixed area. The section above the highway has strong ties to Capitol Hill with which it shares a “community of interest.” Most importantly, the border would divide the neighboring public housing complexes of Potomac Gardens and Hopkins, creating complexities in ward-based city services. Lastly, it would complicate the planned reconstruction of Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
The New Wards 2 and 6
The Subcommittee’s map significantly redraws the boundary between Wards 2 and 6. It reunites Shaw by moving four US Census tracts to Ward 2. The new boundary would go from New York Avenue NE to K Street NW where it takes a brief southern turn before heading west along Massachusetts Avenue NW to Fifth Street NW. There, it traces a route south to Indiana Avenue NW, where it turns briefly west and then south along 6th Street NW to Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It then heads back to the base of the Capitol at Third Street NW where it turns south to Independence Avenue SE following the Mall to the 14th Street where it heads across the Bridge to the Virginia border. This shifts nearly all of Haines Point, the Washington Channel and the Capitol itself into Ward 6. The new population of the new Ward 6 will be 87,954, 25.4% Black. The new Ward 2 would have a population of 89,411, 11.43% Black.
Placing both Kingman Park and Rosedale, the only majority Black neighborhoods on Capitol Hill, in the new Ward 6, preserved racial diversity in that ward, the Subcommittee stated, as well as reuniting two “communities of interest” in response to the demands of residents. Reuniting Shaw, the subcommittee stated, followed the same logic.
With the unanimous approval of the Draft Redistricting Map by the Subcommittee, matters move to the full Council, which will hold two votes to approve a final map on Dec. 7 and Dec. 21. In the past, Councilmembers have made substantial changes to the subcommittee’s recommendations. Certainly the oddities in boundaries created by the Kingman Park and Rosedale hook, the Capitol Riverfront bump out and the extension of Ward 7 below Pennsylvania Avenue SE warrant consideration. However, the main tenants of the Subcommittee’s plan is likely to survive their review and form the basis for the District’s June 2022 election.