“It feels like we’ve been talking about redistricting for months. And, that’s because we have been talking about redistricting for months,” At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson (I) said. “I feel like we might need to get a redistricting tattoo or something.”
Henderson, a member of the DC Council Subcommittee on Redistricting, made the comments at the May 20 meeting to vote on the Subcommittee’s final recommendations for newly redrawn Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs).
The Subcommittee unanimously approved Advisory Neighborhood Commission Boundaries Act of 2022 and its accompanying report. However, Chair Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said that she expected additional changes.
By law, redistricting takes place once every ten years after the conclusion of the US Census. Boundaries are redrawn by the DC Council to ensure each seat represents roughly an equal number of voters. The new wards, redrawn last year, took effect on Jan. 1.
Each ward councilmember appointed a taskforce charged with redrawing both ANC and the Single Member Districts (SMDs) boundaries. Each taskforce presented the Subcommittee with a report and map. These advisory documents formed the basis for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission Boundaries Act of 2022.
Yes, you heard that right: redistricting isn’t over yet. DC Council will vote three more times on two separate dates. First as the Committee of the Whole and then twice at subsequent legislative meetings. The new ANC boundaries must be in place prior to July to allow candidates sufficient time to get on the ballot for the General Election in November 2022.
Silverman Pleads for Civility
The redistricting process has been marked by passion, Subcommittee Chair Elissa Silverman noted as the meeting closed. “I have to say that I am greatly disturbed by the vitriol seen in this debate,” she said, pointing to Wards 3 and 7, where the subject had grown particularly heated.
“There are strong feelings here,” Silverman said. “We’re are dealing with historic issues around race, power, geography, representation and institutional biases that have led to tremendous racial and economic disparities in our city. And we shouldn’t sweep those under the rug, but we need to talk to one another in a way that gets us towards solutions,” she added.
“What worries me is that if we can’t discuss ANC and SMD boundaries, how are we going to talk about the other complex challenges we face in this city?” she asked rhetorically, pointing to issues such as gun violence, public education, housing and mental health issues.
“I just beg of everyone to start talking to and treating your neighbors and fellow residents with respect and empathy,” Silverman said, as she ended her remarks.
The ward taskforce reports and maps function as recommendations. The Subcommittee made changes to every task force map submitted with the exception of Ward 4. Here is a summary of changes relative to our neighborhoods.
The Subcommittee received a request from Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) and Taskforce Chair Ivan Frishberg to redraw the SMDs in ANC 6C. The request closely aligns with a proposal unanimously endorsed in April by members of ANC 6C.
ANC 6C’s concerns were presented at the Subcommittee’s April 28 meeting by Commissioner Mark Eckenwiler (6C04). The request does not change the overall shape of the ANC. Rather, it eliminates a split census block and more equitably balances SMD populations.
The new boundaries of Ward 7 encompass three neighborhoods west of the Anacostia: Kingman Park, included in 2000; the portion of Hill East that is east of 15th Street; and Rosedale. Both the latter were formerly in Ward 6. The Ward 7 Redistricting Taskforce incorporated these neighborhoods into two cross-river ANCs: 7A and 7F. While western members argued for a standalone ANC or being placed in a single commission, a majority of the taskforce took the position that cross-river commissions better incorporate the new residents into the ward by compelling them to work with their eastern neighbors.
The Taskforce’s recommendations were forcefully rejected by its western representatives. They initially advocated a stand-alone western commission. They also criticized the composition of ANC 7A, which stretches from Rosedale to the northern District border as disjoint and unworkable. As a compromise, they proposed as a single 14-member cross-river ANC that would put all western residents of Ward 7 in a single commission. They also floated a standalone western commission that would not include DC Jail, RFK or the Reservation 13. The taskforce’s majority rejected both compromises.
The taskforce’s design of ANC 7F drew criticism from Subcommittee members, particularly the chair. As drawn, the commission was comprised of five SMDs east of the Anacostia and only three on the west. The Subcommittee redrew 7F to balance the number of SMDs between east and west using a compromise map drawn by Taskforce Member Keith Hasan-Towery. This involved moving a portion of 7B01 into the new 7F. It also involved transferring northeastern portions of the original 7F to 7D.
The Subcommittee report acknowledged that nobody would be totally satisfied with the recommended map. At the subcommittee’s May 20 meeting, Silverman expressed uncertainty on whether the map had the support of Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray (D), offering her assistance in reaching any further compromise.
In their report, the Ward 8 Task Force proposed a cross-river commission. Their design of ANC (8A) also incorporated a small area of the Navy Yard that was placed in Ward 6 by the change in ward boundaries. Cross-ward commissions are legally permissible and the arrangement was supported by the Ward 6 Taskforce.
However, Ward 8 residents raised two main concerns with the Subcommittee regarding the design of 8A. First, the proposed map unnecessarily split the historic Anacostia neighborhood. Second, they felt the preponderance of western SMDs would award an outsized voice to Navy Yard residents over the Anacostia and Fairlawn neighborhoods.
In response, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. (D) requested the Subcommittee adopt a compromise map created by a number of the Ward 8 Taskforce members. This map created a standalone west of the river commission, ANC 8F, containing five SMDs and reunited historic Anacostia in a redrawn 8A.
It’s Not Over Till The Council Votes
The Subcommittee recommendations now advance to DC Council. There, all 13 members of DC Council have an opportunity to weigh in on the ANC and SMD boundaries. That means they can still change. Council votes on the legislation that makes the new ANCs official on two separate days: once on May 24 and then on June 7.
The final decision will be arrived at by a majority of the 13 Councilmembers. There are three votes. First, the Council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) will vote the legislation on May 24, followed by a legislative meeting of DC Council the same day. The COW draft report and maps will likely be released 24-hours prior to the vote. Once COW approves the legislation, the Council will vote again, likely on June 7.
Councilmembers can offer amendments before both these votes that could change boundaries significantly. For example, during the Council’s two votes on Ward boundaries, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D) offered an amendment to move the Old Soldiers’ Home and Washington Hospital Center from Ward 1 back into his ward. McDuffie’s amendment failed during the Council’s first vote, but succeeded on the second.
Information on watching the DC Council meetings as well as the hearings’ schedule are available at www.dccouncil.us/events/list/. The proceedings will also be televised on Channels 13 or 18 on both days starting at noon. Here are links to the Subcommittee’s draft map, report and legislation.