Like its counterpart legislative bodies in other states, our District of Columbia Council is charged with redistricting. The jury is still out among a large number of blacks and whites with whom I have spoken as to whether the council will succeed in simply remapping the District, or whether our black-majority council will fall victim to Reconstruction-like ills (chicanery, greed, etc.) and find itself outwitted and outmapped.
Census data for 1980 reveal a disturbingly high population loss in the District of nearly 120,000 people over the last 10 years. Of these, more than 81,000 were blacks and minorities. This loss is the key element in the next redistricting; and it also accounts for why the implications of the council's redistricting decisions are being followed so closely by blacks and minorities in the city.
All concerned residents--black and white-- should be encouraged by the responsible action of the League of Women Voters, which, in an informational capacity, has cited and outlined two principal criteria for arriving at redistricting decisions. They are:
Avoiding divisions of clearly defined neighborhood communities.
Avoiding dilution of the votes of any racial or political groups.
On the other hand, blacks as well as whites were concerned by an attempt to reach an agreement in the back hallways of the council, without benefit of public review or comment. Had that ill-advised course of action proceeded, the result might well have blotted out years of progress in the development of neighborhoods across the city; and it might have recklessly realigned carefully forged working relationships, without due regard to these clearly defined neighborhoods. Fortunately, in an example of responsible journalism, a Washington Post staff writer broke the story, prompting several members of the council to call for a postponement of action pending public review and comment on redistricting options.
One member of the council glibly maintains that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." This cute comment flies in the face of the fact that, of the more than 81,000 blacks and minorities who left (or were displaced from) the District since 1970, more than 15,000--or about 20 percent--of the city's entire black population came from his very ward.
Without exception, the other wards contributed to the total population loss. We are thus confronted with a collective problem that calls for a consensus solution. Fortunately, there appears to be such a consensus among significant segments of the Georgetown, Dupont Circle, downtown, near Northeast and Shaw communities as to what the council should--and should not--do.
Is there a relatively simple solution? I think so. Our elected representatives should remap the city consistent with clearly defined neighborhood communities, and strive to avoid dilution of the votes of any racial or political groups as they have existed.
No elected representatives--black or white-- deserve the public trust if they fail to respond fairly and squarely on this issue. They should consult their constituents during this process and remember, "Don't outwit or outmap--just remap!"