The D.C. City Council met the issue of redistricting head-on yesterday in a lively session of preliminary jockeying that promises more turf fights and creative map-making in the weeks to come.
The redrawing of the city's election ward boundaries is still at the embryonic stage, still just lines on paper: Move this line here, push that one there. Eventually the issue will affect some of Washington's neighborhoods, a goodly number of its citizens, and, especially, most of its politicians.
So yesterday, at the first of a series of council public hearings on redistricting, every time someone suggested moving a line, someone else protested.
Polly Shackleton, the veteran Democratic council member from affluent Ward 3 west of Rock Creek Park, was the first to clear her throat. She criticized a plan offered by Chairman Arrington Dixon, and offered one of her own.
Dixon's plan would have moved Georgetown -- except a tiny wedge in which Shackleton's house is located -- into council member John A. Wilson's sprawling Ward 2. It would be the simplest way, Dixon said when announcing the plan, to solve population disparities between the wards. But Shackleton does not want to give up Georgetown.
Her plan solved the problem: Give Wilson a part of council member David A. Clarke's Ward 1, which now includes Adams-Morgan and Meridian Hill. If Wilson could have that part of Clarke's ward on either side of New Hampshire Avenue NW, just north of Dupont Circle which already belongs to Wilson , Shackleton suggested, then Clarke could be compensated with a slice of Ward 3 north of the zoo between Rock Creek and Connecticut Avenue NW.
Except that Clarke said he does not want to give up the neighborhood north of Dupont Circle. Clarke apparently does not want to give up anything. His ward already is about average in population, he noted. It is the other wards that have the problem. Why bother him?
Clarke was even more vexed when Dupont Circle neighborhood activists suggested removing from his ward not only the wedge north of the circle, but a wide band between 7th and 18th streets NW, from S Street north to Florida Avenue. Included are a number of mostly black neighborhoods where Clarke has always done well with voters.
Clarke would have none of Dupont Circle Political Action Committee member Anne Sellin's assertion that Florida Avenue, which had been the city's boundary in Pierre L'Enfant's original plan for Washington, should be the ward boundary for "historical reasons."
He cross-examined Margaret Tessier, who lives in the disputed area and spoke in favor of the switch. The issue of race intruded. Clarke, who is white, asked Tessier, who is white, if she had worked with any of the black civic groups in the area. She replied that she had many friends active in those groups.
"Some of your best friends, I suppose," Clarke muttered sarcastically. Tessier demanded an apology. Clarke said he would consider it.
There was another stir when John L. Ray, an at-large member of the council who does not have to worry about ward boundaries, suggested that Nadine P. Winter's Ward 6 -- which now straddles the Anacostia River -- be redrawn so that all of it lies west of the river.
Winter, who depends on the votes of blacks east of the Anacostia, remained silent -- for the moment -- but when Wilhelmina J. Rolark, whose Ward 8 in far Southeast would stand to pick up those black neighborhoods, said she agreed with Ray, Winter called Rolark out into the hall for a quick conference.
When she returned, Rolark had given up the notion of taking over all of Winter's territory east of the river. Rolark said she still has her eye on some of it.
Neighborhood activists from Capitol Hill came loaded for bear, angry at a portion of Dixon's plan that would have taken a wedge between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues SE out of Ward 6 and given it to Wilson's Ward 2.
They suggested, instead, several proposals that would consolidate more of Capitol Hill into Ward 6. Wilson was amenable to all except one, which would have cost him part of near Northeast Washington adjacent to the H Street corridor.
"We will man the battlements on H Street," Wilson declared. "People want to know where John Wilson stands. Well, John stands right in the middle of H Street."
Asked later about keeping the neighborhood, Wilson replied succinctly: "They vote for me."