DC Council Approves ANC Redistricting Legislation in Final Vote

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Detail of map as discussed by DC Council June 7. Screenshot: http://chairmanmendelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/All-ANCs-Mendelson-ANS-3.pdf

“I noted on social media when we started this redistricting process I had just given birth to my second child who sat next to me on those hearings,” said  At-Large Councilmember Christine Henderson (I), member of the DC Council Subcommittee on Redistricting.

“I was technically on maternity leave when we started this process and now she’s threatening to walk. That is literally how long we’ve been doing this,” Henderson said.

Henderson made the remarks as DC Council prepared for its final vote on legislation enshrining new boundaries June 7. “I feel like we have battle scars that we’ll hold onto,” she added.

DC Council voted unanimously to approve legislation creating redistricted Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) on the final vote, bringing to an end the redistricting process for the next decade.

“Last-Minute” Changes

Redistricting kicked off in September 2021, delayed by the late receipt of 2020 Census data. New ward boundaries were passed in final vote Dec. 21, 2021. The process to determine new boundaries for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) began with public hearings in January 2022.

Each ward council member appointed a task force to make recommendations for ANC boundaries in their ward, submitting final recommendations April 1. However, the boundaries have significantly changed prior to votes by DC Council held May 24 and June 7, with the most significant changes in Wards 7 and 3.

Those changes took place under the auspices of the Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D).

Prior to the May 24 vote, Mendelson submitted amendments to the map that made significant changes to Ward 7 ANCs. On May 31, week prior to the final vote, Mendelson hosted a meeting to discuss Ward 3 ANC boundaries that critics, including some councilmembers, said was poorly noticed and unfairly moderated.

The Chair’s proposal made a number of changes, most significantly to reunite Cleveland Park in one Ward 3 ANC. That change was reversed when council voted to support an amendment put forward by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (D) and Councilmember Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).

“Where are we going with this [legislation]?” Cheh asked rhetorically. “Well, at the last minute the Chairman is supplanting judgment of both the task force and subcommittee with his own. Where have we seen this kind of behavior before? Well, we see it every year around budget time. Here he’s replacing a four-month process with a last minute fiat.”

Silverman, who chaired the DC Council Subcommittee on Redistricting, had repeatedly told public meetings on new ANC boundaries that she wanted to make the process open and transparent. During the first vote on the redistricting legislation May 24, she elected to vote “present” to draw attention to what she called the “broken process” of redistricting.

The map adopted by council during the May 24th legislative meeting made significant changes to the boundaries supported by the Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting the week prior. Despite lengthy and, at points arduous, efforts by the subcommittee to keep redistricting discussions open and public, she said she was not consulted or informed about the changes.

During the final vote June 7, Silverman again drew attention to process. She alluded to the last-minute changes made by Mendelson prior to both votes. “I heard the Chairman say, this is all allowable, this is how redistricting normally works,” Silverman said.

“You know what, the chairman is not wrong about that,” she continued, noting Mendelson was on the subcommittee in 2001 and 2011. “In the past redistricting has been all about internal squabbling and the whims of the chair, but that needs to change. That’s what we attempted to do with this process.”

For his part, the chair pointed to the limited time for public engagement between the time the Subcommittee submitted recommendations May 20 and the first council vote May 24. He noted that Council was legally required to finalize ANC boundaries at the June 7 meeting and that, despite a requirement that amendments to legislation be circulated a day in advance, that last-minute amendments are common. “It brings criticism on the council to say “this is last minute”, as if there was another possibility,” Mendelson said.

After the vote, the chair reminded members of council rules that require debate to be confined to subject matter, rather than around a person. “I’m still stinging from some of the comments made on the debate of the last measure,” Mendelson said.

Ward 7 Changes

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.

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 map approved May 24 by DC Council renames the northern cross-river ANC, formerly 7A and renames it ANC 7D, and extends it to include all of the currently developed land in Hill East. The southern cross-river ANC 7F now includes largely undeveloped Reservation 13 and the DC Jail and extends further west into much of what was ANC 7D on the Subcommittee Map. After outcry, including a letter from incumbent representative of the DC Jail Joel Caston, an amendment passed June 7 put the DC Jail into its own SMD.

The reconfiguration necessitated the moment of other Single Member Districts (SMDs) into adjacent ANCs. With the elimination of the Subcommittee’s ANC 7D (mostly absorbed into ANC 7F), the Subcommittee’s proposed ANC 7D01 moves to ANC 7C, uniting the neighborhoods along Nannie Hellen Burroughs Avenue. ANC 7F06 rejoins ANC 7B as advocated by the current ANC Commissioner.

“The Committee believes that these changes build on the work of the Ward 7 Taskforce and the Subcommittee, and achieves a balance of cross-river cooperation, compactness of West of the River neighborhoods in a single ANC and a balance in the number of SMDs in neighborhoods,” the report accompanying the map, noting that additional changes are to be expected, especially to balance the size of the ANC 7F SMDs.

The Ward 7 map advanced by the subcommittee sought to help achieve the task force goal of unity but to balance the two cross-river ANCs by ensuring each had an equal number of SMDs on each side of the river. However, in the map approved by council, ANC 7D has 5 SMDs west of the river, and 4 on the east side; meanwhile, ANC 7F includes 6 SMDs on the east side, one in the west and another that crosses the river.

At the June 7 meeting, council voted on a redrawn ANC 7F. Phase 1 and 2 of Reservation 13 development, including the Park Kennedy Apartments (1901 C St. SE) and The Ethel (1901 C St. SE) were placed in ANC 7F07. The new 7F08 is entirely populated by residents of the DC Jail.

In a heartfelt letter addressed to DC Council, incumbent Commissioner Joel Caston (7F07) argued that “as it relates to my incarcerated constituents, I’m fully persuaded that it’s a job best suited for a commissioner on the inside.” Caston was elected in 2021 while a resident of DC Jail, but now lives in the Park Kennedy Apartments.

Detai of June 7 map showing ward 6. Screenshot: mendelson.com

Ward 6 Changes

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.

Detail June 7 map showing ward 6 ANCs. Screenshot: mendelson.com

Ward 8 Changes

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 subsequently 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 was supported at the May 24 vote.