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Posted at 05:08 PM ET, 06/01/2011

Is Marion Barry’s redistricting plan all about the money?

Later today, D.C. Council members will hear testimony on a proposed redistricting plan that has upset scores of city residents — particularly those in the “Hill East” portion of Ward 6. But members are also hearing from one of their own: Marion Barry (D), who has called on his colleagues to expand his own Ward 8 across the Anacostia River.

The draft plan released last week does not do so, but in a lengthy e-mail sent to fellow members this afternoon, Barry asked them to reconsider. “For the past 5 decades, what is now known as Ward 8 has been a dumping ground for low-income, Black families,” he wrote. “However, the Council in the District of Columbia has a unique opportunity to end the segregation and isolation of Ward 8 using redistricting as a tool to add diversity to Ward 8 by moving the district line across the river.”

Barry is specifically interested in Precinct 131, whose inclusion, he writes, “would instantly begin to change the image of Ward 8.” He notes the many jobs in the area, at federal agencies, contractors and Nationals Park. “This memo is an effort to persuade the majority of the Council to end the segregation and racial discrimination of one Ward,” he writes.

But it’s also about something else: “The Ward 8 Business Council has a hard time raising $15,000 or $20,000 for its operations,” he wrote. “Whereas with these big businesses such as the Forest City’s of the world become part of the Ward 8 Business Council, they could easily raise $500,000 to staff the Ward 8 Business Council.”

Barry refers to Forest City Washington, developer of the massive Yards project east of the ballpark. In an interview with me earlier this year, Barry mentioned Forest City and Akridge, another major developer, in that having their projects in the ward would mean an “instant change of perception.” In his memo, Barry is more forthright that it could also mean a major cash injection to groups he supports.

Keep in mind this is the same politician who in 2008 created various Ward 8 “councils” in order to funnel earmarked funds through them and on to this political allies. (The Ward 8 Business Council predated those groups, though it does have close ties to Barry.)

The full memo:

Redistricting of our council boundaries will have a profound effect on the future of Washington, D.C. in general, and Ward 8 in particular. These decisions will be cast in stone for the next 10 years. Part of our difficulty is that there are few members of the Council know the long history of how Ward 8 got to be what it is in terms of demographics. Before I continue, let me say that redistricting of Ward 8 is not about me or any other Council Member, it is about the City and its future.

What has been overlooked in many discussions about the city is the fact that Washington, D.C. was a segregated as any southern town, buses, housing, theatres, restaurants, Garfinkels, Woodies, Hechts ~ all were that way until the mid 60s after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In fact, prior to 1954 DC Public Schools was strictly segregation according to race. As you know Ballou, Anacostia, Eastern and other public schools were all white and were only desegregated with the coming of the Supreme Court decision of 1954.

Now, as to Ward 8. For the past 5 decades, what is now known as Ward 8 has been a dumping ground for low-income, Black families. Some of us may remember that in the 50s there were 5,000 families living in shacks and using out houses as toilets in Southwest. Black families were moved out of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. Most if not all of low income families were moved to what is now Ward 8. Ward 8 has all the negative statistics. We have the most children of parents of low income of any Ward; more families on TANF than any other Ward; more housing choice vouchers than any other Ward; and, the highest unemployment rate of 35% more than any other Ward. Ward 8 has the highest poverty rate of 38%, and it is the only racially segregated Ward in the city.

The Ward also has the largest income gap in this city: $100,000 for a White family, $40,000 for a Black family, and $25,000 for a Ward 8 family.

As a result of this dumping of low income Blacks in what is now Ward 8, 75% of all the housing stock are renters compared to an average of 25% or 30% in other Wards. We know that renters tend to be more transitory, less involved in the community ~ thus for 4 decades, Ward 8 has lost population.

In terms of housing, with all of that, new homeownership possibilities in the now Ward 8, taking the boards off of 2000 units of housing, St. Elizabeth, New Communities, Poplar Point ~ we will only add about 5000 units ~ maybe taking us to 27 or 28%. There is no room for any other homeownership. There are other cities facing the same set of circumstances because of the housing, economic conditions there is very little to be done to add diversity to these cities. However, the Council in the District of Columbia has a unique opportunity to end the segregation and isolation of Ward 8 using redistricting as a tool to add diversity to Ward 8 by moving the district line across the river to precinct 131. It is a compact area with 2700 residents, 1600 voters, mostly white but more importantly a thriving business community with 15 or more high rise condos, office buildings, a hotel, 9 or 10 restaurants, the Department of Transportation, National Stadium. Moreover, this precinct has a wide variety of consumer products.

If the City Council were to include precinct 131 into Ward 8, it would instantly begin to change the image of Ward 8. As a Ward, Ward 8 would be seen with great growth potential, major businesses on the move and decreasing population of middle income persons.

There are over 15,000 jobs in this precinct, mostly federal. But the private businesses located there could be asked to concentrate on hiring Ward 8 residents, thus, lowering our unemployment rate. Now let it be clear, putting precinct 131 into Ward 8 does not immediately help the suffering and vulnerable people who are here. As we all know, people’s view of a community is very important in marketing a community. This memo is an effort to persuade the majority of the Council to end the segregation and racial discrimination of one Ward.

The Ward 8 Business Council has a hard time raising $15,000 or $20,000 for its operations. Whereas with these big businesses such as the Forest City’s of the world become part of the Ward 8 Business Council, they could easily raise $500,000 to staff the Ward 8 Business Council.

The list goes on and on.

Members of the City Council, I appeal to your sense of fair play, justice and diversity.

By  |  05:08 PM ET, 06/01/2011

 
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