- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

A D.C. Council subcommittee on Thursday approved a draft plan that redistricts the city’s eight wards and notably shifts part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood into Ward 7.

But the plan is not sitting well with some people in the Hill East section of Ward 6, who feel the proposed lines will drive a wedge in their community.

“It makes it more difficult to advocate for things we want as a neighborhood,” Capitol Hill resident Cody Rice said after a subcommittee hearing on the proposed changes.

The District must reorganize its wards every 10 years, after the release of the census, to balance the population and ensure equal representation on the council.

Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent and co-chairman of the ward redistricting subcommittee, released a plan Wednesday night that significantly shifted part of the western border of Ward 7 from the Anacostia River into the eastern border of Ward 6.

A box-shaped cut into the border keeps Eastern High School and Eliot Hine Middle School in Ward 6, satisfying one point of contention in the community.

Yet many disgruntled Ward 6 residents plan to speak out at a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, argued about the presence of council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, as a co-chairman on the subcommittee. He said the presence of Mr. Evans — the only ward council member on the subcommittee and the representative from the ward that experienced the largest population surge — led to gerrymandering and “calls into question the integrity of the process.”

Mr. Evans said he was put on the subcommittee to offer his experience — he worked on redistricting in 1991 and 2001 — and no one should expect full satisfaction.

“Redistricting is the issue that gets people the maddest,” he said.

A population surge in Ward 2 and decreases in Wards 7 and 8 were the catalysts for reshuffling key neighborhoods.

D.C. law requires each ward’s population to be within a 5 percent deviation of the average population, which, according to the 2010 census, is 75,215 residents.

Ward 2 documented 939 residents above the maximum cap of 78,975. Meanwhile, Wards 7 and 8 came in at 386 and 742, respectively, under the low-end limit of 71,455.

A proposal to siphon off part of Ward 2 to Ward 8 did not pass muster, “because it spans a great distance with very few people in between,” according to the subcommittee’s report.

Instead, the members opted to move parts of Ward 2’s Shaw and Mount Vernon neighborhoods into Ward 6.

Among other changes in the draft plan, Ward 8 gains part of the Fairlawn neighborhood, including Marbury Plaza from Ward 7.

“We were as fair as we could be,” Mr. Brown said after the meeting.

The subcommittee also recommended that residential parking permits be divorced from the wards to eliminate any disruptions from redistricting.

Comments from the dais warned against letting the redistricting process fracture the city with talk of racial tensions and priorities that fall east or west of the Anacostia River.

“To say one neighborhood is not as good as the next or one neighborhood should not be represented by this person or that person, is to say the 13 [council] members don’t make decisions on the behalf of all the residents of the District of Columbia,” said council member Harry Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat.

Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said the Kingman Park community wants to leave her ward, the Rosedale and Hill East communities of Ward 6 do not want to join her ward and the Fairlawn and Marbury Plaza neighborhoods community do not want to leave her ward for Ward 8.

“So it’s a challenge being the Ward 7 council member,” she said.

Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, threatened to contact a lawyer if the subcommittee does not find a way to extend his ward across the Anacostia River, which he called “a divider” between races and classes.

“What Mr. Brown has done,” he said, “is he has recommended something that keeps it a divider.”

The plan must receive approval from the full council and the mayor’s signature by July 14.

However, the subcommittee recommended final action by July 1 to allow the advisory neighborhood commissions to start their own redistricting by Oct. 1 upon receipt of ward task force recommendations.

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