On Thursday, a D.C. Council committee will take an initial vote on how ward boundaries will be redrawn to account for the population shifts of the past decade. No deal is done yet, said Michael Brown (D-At Large), who is leading the redistricting process. But because the process of drafting legislation to describe the new map is so tedious, he said, an agreement will likely come together in the next 24 hours.
The line-drawers’ challenge is this: Ward 2 has too many residents, and Ward 8 has too few. In between are wards 5, 6 and 7. Here’s what’s on the table, per conversations with key council members:
• Fairlawn reunites: The Fairlawn neighborhood, up against the Anacostia River south of Pennsylvania Avenue SE and currently split between Wards 7 and 8, is all but certain to be united in Ward 8 — which would give that ward enough residents to pass legal muster.
• Shaw leaves Ward 2: Ward 2 is the only ward that needs to shrink, and Democrat Jack Evans, who is on the redistricting panel, wants it to shrink by shedding Shaw on its eastern end. Whether it ends up in Ward 5 or Ward 6 is a trickier issue and depends on what happens regarding the following two scenarios:
• Hill East goes to Ward 7: With Fairlawn united, Ward 7 will have to grow west. It currently extends across the Anacostia River into the Kingman Park neighborhood of Ward 6, and it could potentially move further west and south, picking up the Rosedale neighborhood and the “Hill East” area -- potentially everything east of 17th Street between Benning Road NE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. That includes RFK Stadium and the D.C. General campus (aka Reservation 13), which is set for a massive redevelopment. (A very rough idea of what this map would look like, made with Greater Greater Washington’s redistricting game, is shown above.)
• Carver-Langston/Arboretum/Fort Lincoln go to Ward 7: If the line drawers choose to take Ward 7 into Ward 5 instead, it could encompass some or all of the neighborhoods north of Benning Road and east of Bladensburg Road, currently in Ward 5.
What’s off the table:
• Ward 8 moves across the river: With Ward 8 made whole with the Fairlawn move, there’s no reason to expand it further -- especially not by taking the politically explosive step of moving into it parts of Ward 6, as Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) has advocated.
• Chevy Chase returns to Ward 3: West-of-the-park residents who were moved to Ward 4 a decade ago are still sore and want back in Ward 3. But there’s simply too many of them to add to Ward 3 without them having to shift out other Ward 3 residents. Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) is focusing her attention on possibly moving Woodley Park residents east of Connecticut Avenue NW from Ward 1 into Ward 3.
By far the most controversial redistricting move stands to involve Ward 7’s growth. Both Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) want to keep the eastern reaches of their wards intact. Thus far, the Hill East option seems more likely, but the Ward 6’ers also appear to be better organized against a shift: A “Rally to Keep Capitol Hill Together” has been set for tomorrow evening from Lincoln Park to Eastern High School.
Thomas’ argument is that Ward 5 would have to cede a lot of territory — the Anacostia River, Pepco’s Benning Station, Spingarn and Phelps high schools, and his beloved Langston Golf Course — before Ward 7 could actually pickup any residents in the east of his ward. Ward 6, he argues, would just have to move a few blocks.
”This is not a land grab,” Thomas said. “It’s adding people.”
Wells has seized upon the possible loss of Eastern as a rallying point. He and other ward residents want the newly renovated school to develop into a neighborhood high school for the Capitol Hill neighborhoods to the south and west.
“The whole ward is excited about the new Eastern,” he said. “I believe that Michael Brown does not want all of Ward 6 angry with him, especially as he enters a re-election campaign.”
I’ve heard from some Hill residents have argued that under constitutional redistricting principles, the Council could draw wards that have populations outside the 5 percent margin allowed by District law in order to respect “natural boundaries.” Perhaps, but as the City Paper’s Lydia DePillis explained over the weekend, the issue was litigated unsuccessfully by Kingman Park residents after the last redistricting, and there seems to be little appetite among committee members to exceed the statutory margins.
Brown, who is in Las Vegas for the annual retailers convention, says that he’s still trying to work out some “tricky little areas” with his colleagues.
”Not everyone’s going to be happy,” he said. “I’m trying to minimize the unhappiness.”
After the redistricting panel approves a draft proposal Thursday, residents will be able to comment on it at a public hearing on June 1, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. The full council will then taken an initial vote on June 7.