The D.C. City Council tentatively approved a plan yesterday for redrawing the city's political boundaries that takes most of Georgetown out of affluent Ward 3 and lumps it into Ward 2 in the central city.
With the addition of Georgetown, Ward 2, which now includes such disparate areas as downtown Washington, DuPont Circle and the low-income Shaw area, will have roughly the same number of whites as blacks. Among the city's eight wards, only Ward 3, located west of Rock Creek Park, has a white majority.
Georgetown residents have long been known for their political activism and high voting turnout. As a result, Ward 2 community groups say the addition of an estimated 9,600 white Georgetown residents to Ward 2 will give whites a voting majority. The inclusion of the Georgetown residents also accelerates the steady transformation of the ward, in which the number of whites, many of them affluent, has steadily increased in recent years.
While moving most of Georgetown to Ward 2, the council kept a two-block-wide sliver of Georgetown containing the home of council member Polly Shackleton in Ward 3 so that she can again run for the Ward 3 seat.
The redistricting, undertaken to comply with the Supreme Court's one-man-one-vote edict, was approved on a voice vote, with Shackleton abstaining and council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) dissenting. The council is expected to take final action on the issue in three weeks and the redrawn wards would take effect in next year's city elections.
Yesterday's vote was immediately denounced by Georgetown activists who called it a blatant example of "gerrymandering" that would split their community. In addition, community groups in Ward 2 charged that it would severely dilute black political strength in the city and fundamentally alter the political character of their ward by adding the white upper-income Georgetown residents.
Currently, Ward 2 has 38,217 blacks, about 30,300 whites and about 4,100 Hispanics, Asian-Americans and other minority groups. As a result of the changes, which also moves small parts of Capitol Hill out of Ward 2 and into Ward 6, the redrawn ward will have about 38,500 whites and about the same number of blacks.
The plan was defended by its author, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, as the "cleanest, most rational shift of people" the council could have conceived to correct population imbalances found in the various wards after the 1980 census.
The census found that Ward 3, the city's largest with 88,300 residents, had 19.6 percent more people than Ward 2, the smallest with 72,700.
"It's orderly," Dixon said of his plan. "It's not ragged or disjointed and it doesn't break up any natural boundaries."
However, Georgetown residents were already threatening to challenge the plan in a lawsuit if it is eventually adopted by the council.
"This is patently ridiculous," said Donald Shannon, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown. "The idea of cutting up slices of an established community to accommodate the temporary political interests of one council member Shackleton is ludicrous."
Ward 2 groups were equally furious, noting that upper-income Georgetown would have little in common with such inner-city concerns as rent control, condominium conversions and real estate speculation.
"We don't view the interests of Georgetown as being compatible with ours," said Sterling Green, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from the Shaw area. "The ability of our ward to speak with a collective voice has been sadly diluted."
The redistricting plan was approved after a morning work session in which council members huddled over a bewildering array of maps and census figures, but engaged in almost no substantive debate over the proposal. While Wilson voted against the proposal, he did not speak or lobby against it. Shackleton said she abstained because of what she called a "conflict of interest."
The 71-year-old Shackleton, who has represented Ward 3 for the last 14 years, said she has not yet decided whether she will run for reelection next year. Despite the vocal opposition of the Georgetown citizens group, she said it would be a conflict for her to vote against the plan "because I certainly don't want to be put out of Ward 3."
Shannon angrily attacked Shackleton's abstention, saying she was evading the issue.
The Ward 2 community groups were equally critical of Wilson's failure to take a strong stand against the proposal. Wilson, who is running for mayor and has scheduled his first fund-raiser in a private home in Georgetown, told reporters after the vote that he personally "didn't have any problems" with the Dixon plan, but voted against it because his constituents opposed it. He hastily left the council chambers and refused to answer further questions.
"I expected more from Wilson and I think all the organizations in the ward that are opposing this expected more," said Shaw ANC commissioner Green. "It's clear they reached this decision in the back rooms."
Yesterday's vote comes after a series of public hearings that were called by the council after Dixon's plan was criticized almost from the moment he unveiled it Oct. 14. However, the council chairman made only one substantive change as a result of the public hearings -- a small area of Capitol Hill bounded by Massachusetts Ave. NE and the Southwest Freeway, which contains 1,842 people, was moved from Ward 2 into Ward 6.
The switch, which was made to accommodate the requests of Capitol Hill community groups, would thus consolidate all of Capitol Hill into Ward 6, which currently stretches across the Anacostia River to portions of Far Southeast Washington.
The plan would also move about 2,000 residents from Ward 8, which covers the far southeastern tip of the city east of the Anacostia River, into Ward 6. It would 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.