Residents of Ward 7 west of the Anacostia River are challenging the redistricting map and report submitted by the Ward 7 Redistricting Taskforce to the DC Council on April 1, 2022.
27 people are set to testify in front of the DC Council Committee of the Whole April 7 both in support of —and in opposition to— the recommendations.
The taskforce, opponents claim, has ignored the redistricting principles established by the DC Council’s Subcommittee in drawing new ANC and Single Member District (SMD) boundaries.
“It’s just ridiculous,” said task force committee member Francis Campbell. Campbell is a former 6B10 commissioner; his former SMD was redistricted into Ward 7 last year. “It breaks all of the principles of redistricting.”
Proponents of the map argue that the map is centered around identified neighborhoods and allows for collaboration across the river on shared concerns, helping to promote unity across all of Ward 7.
“I feel like we did what we were supposed to do,” said task force member Keith Hasan-Towery, who created the draft on which the final map was based. “We looked at the neighborhoods, and we built the neighborhoods according off of that.”
The map submitted to DC Council April 1 divides Ward 7 west of the river into two cross-river ANCs, 7A and 7F, that advocates like Campbell are neither compact or contiguous. They argue that the two ANCs also divide “communities of interest” — Kingman Park, Hill East and Rosedale — between two commissions.
Neighborhoods within the recommended ANC7F would include Hill East/Barney Circle, Reservation 13, DC Jail, Benning and most of Fort Dupont. The neighborhoods within ANC7A consist of Rosedale, Kingman Park, River Terrace, Mayfair, Parkside/Paradise, Eastland Gardens and Kenilworth.
The Subcommittee directed that all submitted maps comply with six guidelines outlined in DC Code. These include equal representation, meaning legislative districts must be roughly equal in size, between roughly 1900 to 2100 residents. They must be racially equitable; according to DC law, that means redrawn legislative boundaries cannot dilute “the voting strength of minority citizens.”
ANCs also should be “compact and contiguous”, with boundaries that make geographic sense. Communities of interest should be kept together, meaning identifiable should not be divided among legislative districts. Finally, maps should avoid dividing census tracts as much as possible to make data collection more accurate and understandable. Given the volatility of the pandemic, this year DC Council also asked task forces to maintain as much ward continuity and stability as possible, instructing them to make boundary changes as necessary but avoid radical change.
The Ward 7 Task Force map and accompanying report were fashioned during a series of public meetings held from January to the end of March. There are departures from the principles in four areas. The map contains nine SMDs with populations either above (2100) and below (1900) the legal mandates. Second, it also divides six whole census tracts.
These two deviations by themselves are not unusual; variation in SMD size and census block splitting are often necessary in areas with high density, such as an area where several high-rise apartment buildings are located. For example, the Ward 6 Task Force recommended division of five census tracts. Many divisions are located in the Union Market and Union Station areas, both areas with several big buildings and increased development on the horizon. A proposed ANC 6E would have nine SMDs, five of them above or below the recommended size.
The Ward 7 used similar justification for a split in ANC 7A. 2,800 people live in one census block that includes the Mayfair and Paradise apartment complexes. The Task Force proposed splitting this block, pulling 506 people living in five buildings out of SMD 7A02 and putting them in 7A03, giving them populations of 2307 and 2174 respectively. Those SMD sizes are larger, the report notes, but cannot be reduced unless the apartment complexes are split amongst three SMDs.
Members were in agreement about the task force request for a census block split in Reservation 13. The report recommends it be split in half to create a new SMD, 7F06, specifically to represent residents of the DC Jail. However, according to the Office of Planning (OP), DC Jail houses 1590 people, putting that SMD under the bottom limit of 1900, while the newly-created 7F07 would have 2260 residents, 160 over limit.
Where there was disagreement throughout the process was around the question of compact and contiguous ANCs, and whether the proposed commissions split “communities of interest.”
Much of this discussion centered on a proposal from Campbell and 6A08 Commissioner Brian Alcorn to create a Ward 7 ANC located solely on the west side of the river, encompassing the portions of ANCs 6A, 6B and 7D —Hill East, Rosedale and Kingman Park— that were redistricted into Ward 7. That proposal was endorsed by the representatives of that area, but shot down by the task force.
Unlike the taskforces of its neighboring Wards 6 and 8, the Ward 7 map and report did not receive unanimous endorsement of task force members. As a result, the report includes a minority dissent.
Taskforce members Brian Alcorn and Campbell, both of whom were redistricted from Ward 6, wrote the dissent, in which they argued in favor of a standalone western Ward 7 ANC, a position they said was supported by the Council’s 2011 and 2021 Redistricting Subcommittees. The proposed ANC would include Rosedale, Kingman Park and Hill East.
“Any configuration other than a single ANC potentially forces the residents to solicit input or support from multiple ANCs for matters that only impact their immediate area,” the report said.
They argue that the neighborhoods share traffic concerns, being connected by 15th, 17th and 19th Streets. In meetings, Alcorn pointed to concerns with historic preservation that are not a factor on the other side of the river.
Campbell said the boundaries of the proposed 7A and 7F separate neighborhoods that have worked together and share particular interests. The map also places RFK Stadium Campus in 7A and Reservation 13 in 7F, splitting residents nearby from the ANCs that have an interest in future development on the sites. The boundaries of the SMDs are insufficiently compact and contiguous to allow for residents to walk to any potential site of an in-person ANC meeting, he added.
Keith Hasan-Towery created the draft on which the final map was based. He said after the task force voted to support the map, he asked new neighbors publicly for help making the map better represent communities on the western side, but was refused.
Hasan-Towery said he believes people are getting more caught up in their feelings rather than in facts.
The SMDs are compact and contiguous, he argues.“There is an established precedent to show that a river is not a barrier that will automatically make something not compact and contiguous,” he said in a phone interview. ANC 7A has four SMDs on either side of the river; 7F has three on the west and five on the east. That will allow residents on both sides to work collaboratively on issues related to the DC Jail, Robert F. Kennedy Stadium and Reservation 13, but also Benning Road, the DC Streetcar, preserving communities of interest, he said.
Early in the process, Hasan-Towery added, the task force agreed they would work to maintain communities identified using the boundaries of civic associations, including the Kingman Park Association. Hasan-Towery said it was hard for members of the committee to define Hill East, saying the DC Council Subcommittee on Redistricting shared that concern, writing in their Nov. 21 2021, report “there is little agreement on the exact borders of Hill East and resident may also disagree that the neighborhood is meaningfully different from Capitol Hill.”
“These are communities of interest,” Hasan-Towery said of the newly created ANCs. “It’s gonna be a great thing that I think people are going to look back on in the next 3 and 4 years and say, although they had to force us to come to the table to work together, it’s a good idea that we did this, because we are stronger together.”
Current 7D01 Commissioner Tamara Blair, who co-chaired the task force, represents Kingman Park. In early discussions, she argued that the inclusion of Kingman Park in ANC 7D had isolated residents and their concerns. Blair told task force members that due to a lack of shared concerns, she sometimes had difficulty getting issues before the commission, unable to get a second to put forward a motion.
The task force report argues that an increased number of cross-river SMDs will decrease that isolation. “4 SMDs are included from east of the river, and 4 from west of the river, addressing longtime defects in ANC 7D that isolated individual SMDs,” the report argues.
Other taskforce members chose to emphasize ward unity across the Anacostia River. At its March 3 meeting, task force member Mandla Deskins argued most issues unite communities rather that divide them. “We should make sure that people who live across the river, our isolation is not continued as it has been in the past,” Deskins said, “just because we are black people and we live east of the river.”
Taskforce member Dr. Marla M. Dean agreed. West of the river should not have its own ANC, she stated. “I think that sends a terrible message,” she said. “I think we should be looking for ways to show we’re integrated and unified.”
Ward task force redistricting reports are considered recommendations; you can see all eight task force reports here. The DC Council makes the final decisions on ANC/SMD boundaries. This process begins two public hearings by the DC Council Subcommittee on Redistricting. The first takes place today, Thursday April 7, beginning at 12 p.m. You can watch it here.
The second hearing takes place April 28. Those interested in testifying must sign up by 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 26 here.
Once the Subcommittee has heard public testimony, members may adjust the maps and vote on the results. Then the entire Council must endorse the recommendations before they take effect.
Elizabeth O’Gorek is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News/the Hill Rag. Reach her at Liz@hillrag.com.
A previous version of this story misstated the balance of ANCs in the proposed ANC 7F. There are five SMDs proposed for east of the river and three west of the river. The Hill Rag regrets the error.