There is hardly a more political exercise than drawing election boundaries. Washington voters will become much more familiar with this tainted art from in coming weeks, as the City Council redraws the boundaries of the city's eight wards.
Council Chairman Arrington Dixon opened the debate last week with a proposal to move Georgetown from Ward 3 to Ward 2. A sliver of land including the house of Polly Shackleton, the veteran council member from Ward 3, would be exempted from the move.
The move would be the least complicated way of eradicating the population imbalances among the city's wards, Dixon said. Ward 2 City Council Member John A. Wilson, whose home district already includes downtown, Southwest and Dupont Circle, reacted with a laugh:
"There won't be a place in town I can't drink for free."
Shackleton grinned at the thought of the proposed new ward boundary Dixon had drawn for her so that she wouldn't find herself locked out of her own ward, which includes the affluent end of town west of Rock Creek. "I appreciate the chairman's concern, but I'm not sure this is quite the way to do it," she said.
Shackleton suggested an alternative. She said she wants the council to explore the possibility of leaving Georgetown where it is, and instead moving Precinct 34, which stretches north along the eastern side of Connecticut Avenue north of the National Zoo, into Ward 1, which includes Adams-Morgan and the inner city neighborhoods just north of Ward 2. She would then extend the boundary of Ward 2 farther north into what is now Ward 1.
It's complicated, but redistricting always is.
The sharpest reaction to Dixon's plan, though, came not in the matter of Georgetown but in the matter of Capitol Hill. Dixon would also reshuffle Capitol Hill's neighborhoods, taking some neighborhoods in the wedge between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues from Ward 6 and putting them into Ward 2.
The neighborhoods in question have been getting whiter and whiter, and neighborhood activists are angry at the proposed shift. Paul Hays, former chairman of the D.C. Republican Party and now a Capitol Hill activist, charged that Dixon was trying to gerrymander white votes out of Ward 6, now represented on the council by Nadine P. Winter. Elizabeth Maloney of the Ward 6 Democrats charged the same thing.
The activists on Capitol Hill, as well as others confused about the Georgetown proposal, put up such a howling that Dixon quickly scheduled a series of public discussions on the plan. The redistricting issue will be with us for a while.
One of the most intriguing recent developments on the D.C. political scene is the frequency with which Dixon is being mentioned as a candidate to be the next president of the University of the District of Columbia.
It sounds far-fetched. But a member of the committee now seeking a successor to Lisle C. Carter, who has announced plans to leave, confirmed that Dixon's name has come up.
"I know some people have offered my name, and I'm flattered," Dixon said coyly. He says he is nowhere near a decision to forsake politics for academia, and notes that the search committee, headed by UDC board chairman Ronald Brown, is nowhere near deciding whether it wants him.
It is still hard to imagine a young (age 38) politician who holds the second-highest office at the District Building retiring from politics at this point in his career. It would be out of character, to say the least. There may not be many offices to run for in the District of Columbia, but there are at least two -- mayor and non-voting delegate to Congress -- that Dixon hasn't yet tried for.
But Dixon could quell the rumor that he's thinking about getting out of politics (at least for a while) simply by saying he's not interested. Instead, he says he just might be.
The unanswered question, though, is whether the board is really interested in him. Dixon's credentials, which include a law degree and eight years of teaching at Washington Technical Institute, are laudable, but perhaps not the super-laudable pedigree generally required of a university president. And the appointment might appear overly political.
So maybe the talk will die down. But for now, it's out there.