City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon unveiled a plan for redrawing the city's eight election wards yesterday that would take affluent Georgetown out of overpopulated Ward 3 and put it into underpopulated Ward 2.
The shift, however, would exempt a sliver of Georgetown including the home of veteran Ward 3 Councilwoman Polly Shackleton from the move.
The switch, considered the simplest way to correct an imbalance found by the 1980 census, would have the effect, according to most observers, of further diluting black political strength in Ward 2, which now includes Foggy Bottom, downtown Washington, Shaw, Southwest and parts of Capitol Hill.
Ward 3, the affluent swath of the city west of Rock Creek Park, was found by the census to have significantly more residents than the rest of the city's wards. Since Ward 3 is contiguous to Ward 2, one of the smallest wards, most redistricting ideas floated so far have involved giving a portion of Ward 3 to Ward 2 to correct the imbalance.
"Adding Georgetown would have the obvious effect of making Ward 2 whiter and richer," said Alaire B. Rieffel, the Board of Education member from Ward 2. "Really, Georgetown is a lot like Foggy Bottom: heavily Republican, high-income, generally professional people. Georgetown would be an extension of the Foggy Bottom portion of the ward."
The ward is now represented on the City Council by a black incumbent Democrat, John A. Wilson. Wilson could not be reached for comment yesterday, but an aide who asked not to be named predicted that the addition of Georgetown would simply accelerate a weakening of black political power in the ward that has been going on for some time.
"White voter turnout in Ward 2 has always been higher than black turnout," the aide said. The census found 38,200 blacks and 30,300 whites in the ward, making it already one of the most closely balanced racially in a city whose overall population is 71 percent black.
"The ward has already been getting whiter," said the aide. She noted that Wilson has traditionally done well among whites, but added, "It would be difficult for another black candidate to get elected in Ward 2 as it is. With Georgetown, that would just make it that much more difficult."
No final figures were available yesterday on what the racial balance in Ward 2 would become under Dixon's proposal. Moving Georgetown would add about 7,500 residents to Ward 2; and Ward 3, where those residents would come from, is more than 90 percent white.
Adding Georgetown to Ward 2 would also make it the largest ward geographically in the city, stretching from the hillside homes of affluent residents near Georgetown University, to the inner-city poverty of Shaw and the H Street NE corridor, to the sleek apartment buildings and bleak public housing projects of Southwest.
Dixon's plan is drawn to coincide with census tracts, except for one striking deviation: A V-shaped slice of Georgetown, spanning no more than two blocks at its widest point, would be allowed to reamin in Ward 3. That sliver contains Councilwoman's Shackleton's Reservoir Road home. Dixon acknowledged yesterday that the lines were drawn to accommodate Shackleton.
"We were concerned about maintaining as much continuity in leadership as possible, and causing as little disruption to the voters as we could," Dixon said. His aides, meanwhile, were poring over a ward map on which all the council members' homes, including Shackleton's, were marked with stars.
Redistricting is expected to be one of the council's major issues this year, as it is in state legislatures around the country. After each census, states are required to eliminate imbalances discovered in election districts.
Dixon's plan, which he said he expects to present to the council next week, is the first concrete proposal to emerge from the District Building. Although other council members have aides studying the issue, none has made a proposal.
Dixon's proposal would also add residents to Ward 6, which stretches from Capitol Hill across the Anacostia River to portions of Far Southeast. Ward 6 was found by the census to be the city's smallest ward in population with 73,400 residents.
Dixon's proposed new boundaries would slice several blocks from the eastern end of Ward 2, where it mounts Capitol Hill, and attach them to Ward 6. Ward 8, which covers the far southeastern tip of the city east of the Anacostia River, would also give up some residents to Ward 6. The net gain for Ward 6 would be about 2,000 residents.
The proposal would also consolidate Catholic University into Ward 5. The school now straddles the boundary between Ward 4, which includes the northern tip of the city, and Ward 5, which stretches across Northeast Washington.
But the most significant political impact of the changes would come in Ward 2. "I would really be concerned about the implications of the proposal," said Sterling Green of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C in the mostly poor, mostly black Shaw area of Ward 2.
"The ultimate effect would be to lessen the concern focused on low- and moderate-income needs," said Green. "I think there would tend to be more of a focus on the Georgetown end, because those are the people who tend to be more expressive, tend to get more involved in politics."
An aide to Shackleton said the Ward 3 councilwoman has not yet reviewed the plan to try to discern what it means for her ward to lose Georgetown. "We'll have to sleep on it," the aide said.
One positive reaction came from gay activist Paul Kuntzler. Homosexuals have become an important voting bloc and lobby in Ward 2, and Kuntzler predicted that the addition of Georgetown would increase gay influence.
"We have a lot of strength in those Georgetown precincts," Kuntzler said. "If anything, this strengthens our hand."