THE D. C. COUNCIL chairman, Arrington Dixon, drew howls from other council members recently with his proposal for redrawing council boundary lines. This was predictable; redistricting, required after every census, will be difficult and controversial, if only because this is the city's first time around. Council members, understandably concerned lest their political bases be eroded, complained that they had not been consulted by Mr. Dixon. In Ward 3, council member Polly Shackleton found that her own home had nearly been cropped out of her ward, and she lost Georgetown, Ward 3's centerpiece, altogether.
There is, however, a deeper concern, one that arises from the racial composition of the city's wards. At the heart of any change in ward lines is the apprehension felt by a good number of blacks that many white, upper-class professionals are someday going to return to the city in enough numbers to recapture political control.
There is little basis in the raw census data for this supposition. The ratio of blacks to whites in the District has remained essentially stable at 70 percent black and 27 percent white for the last 10 years. But undeniably something has changed. Blacks are leaving the city at a faster rate than whites, and whites are no longer confining themselves to the far Northwest. According to the 1980 census, the percentage of whites in mid-city is growing. In Ward 1, the number of whites increased by 5 percent to 20 percent and in Ward 6 by 3 percent to 23 percent.
The increases are small, but they are magnified in political terms by the higher voting rate of whites and by the likely addition--in any redistricting plan --of some part of the 92 percent white Ward 3 to the now almost racially balanced Ward 2. That would give Ward 2 a white majority. With Wards 1, 3 and 6 also gaining substantial numbers of white voters through new residential patterns, the city appears on the verge of a natural change.
Those unplanned changes in racial makeup explain some of the protests against Mr. Dixon's redistricting draft. Some white residents of Ward 6 are complaining that Mr. Dixon would dilute the impact of their vote by extending their ward's boundaries into the mostly black Southeast area, while the more white Capitol Hill area would be moved into Ward 2. At the same time, some black residents of Ward 2 are complaining that Mr. Dixon would take away their black majority by adding Ward 3's white overflow to their ward.
To respect the fundamental principle of one man- one vote, the city must redraw the ward lines. To serve the city's paramount interest in racial good will, it must redraw them equitably. It is idle to suggest that in this exercise racial considerations of one sort or another can be closed out. At the end, however, residents ought to be able to feel that their representatives did their best to be open, consistent and fair. White interests and black interests cannot be neatly distinguished from each other. Neither blacks nor whites vote strictly on racial lines. There is such a thing as good government, there is a common interest in it, and the council's work on redistricting should promote it.