Around 150 people attended last night’s packed Hill East Community Meeting on Redistricting with Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At Large), co-chair of the DC Council’s redistricting subcommittee. Councilmember Brown was joined by Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and, about halfway through the meeting, by fellow redistricting subcommittee member Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).
Since I had microphone duties, I didn’t have an opportunity to take notes. However, here are my takeaways from last night’s meeting:
- Hill East residents showed up and made their voices heard. Given the short notice for the meeting, it was fantastic to see such a large turnout. Councilmembers Brown and Mendelson were asked tough questions and heard a pretty clear message: Keep all of Hill East united in Ward 6. Thanks to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to join us last night!
- 17th St. SE as a boundary between Wards 6 & 7 is clearly “in play.” Councilmember Michael Brown stated that the subcommittee is considering 17th Street SE from Benning Road NE to Barney Circle SE as the potential boundary between Wards 6 & 7 – residents west of 17th St. SE would be in Ward 6 while residents east of 17th St. SE would be in Ward 7. Just this morning, Councilmember Wells tweeted that a redistricting subcommittee member has confirmed that Eastern High School will likely be moved to Ward 7. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons. First, it would divide Hill East in half between two wards, severely limiting our neighborhood’s collective voice. Second, roughly 6,000-10,000 Ward 6 residents would be placed in Ward 7 – a massive change for a subcommittee supposedly trying to minimize any disruption caused by redistricting. Third, and most importantly, the change would still create a situation where an overwhelming majority of Ward 7 residents live on the eastern side of the Anacostia River. At best, 16% of the newly drawn ward’s population would be west of the river and would clearly be an afterthought to any Councilmember representing Ward 7.
- Subcommittee members seem to be giving Ward 5 a pass. Every time Ward 5 was mentioned as an alternative to dividing Hill East, Councilmembers Brown and Mendelson responded by citing geographical concerns (the Arboretum and river) and the potential of splitting up neighborhoods in Ward 5. Yet there are clearly options north of Benning Road, such as the entire Carver/Langston neighborhood, that would satisfy the population requirements of Ward 7 while keeping Hill East intact. One attendee questioned why Hill East is being targeted once again in redistricting (Kingman Park, in the northeast section of Hill East, was drawn into Ward 7 after the 2000 census). She said it is unfair of the subcommittee to solely target Hill East and spare other neighborhoods and wards. I completely agree. The city has already broken promises to the residents of Hill East and made Reservation 13 the social services hub of DC. Hasn’t our neighborhood sacrificed enough?
- Councilmembers Brown and Mendelson do not view leaving the wards unchanged as an option. Attendees urged the subcommittee to take advantage of language in the DC Code that specifically allows wards to remain unchanged due to “neighborhood cohesiveness” and the “natural geography of the District.” Both Councilmembers said that DC would be sued if the city does not make sure that each ward is within 5 percent of 75,000. I’m not sure that is true, particularly since the exception is in the DC Code. Nonetheless, it seems the subcommittee is not inclined to go in that direction.
- While school boundaries won’t change, schools will be affected by a ward change. A number of residents voiced concern about the effect that redistricting would have on schools. Councilmembers Brown and Mendelson said that redistricting would not affect school boundaries. However, a number of people, including Councilmember Wells, noted that schools and PTSAs do work together with their ward counterparts and that there are a number of Ward 6 schools initiatives, such as the Ward 6 Middle Schools plan.
- We need to do more! While last night’s meeting combined with the petitions and the hundreds of call and e-mails are making a difference, we really need everyone to weigh in this week. The subcommittee will release its proposed map next Wed., May 25. Once the map is out, it is going to be extremely difficult for us to convince Councilmembers to make major changes. We need to weigh in now!
Please continue to call and e-mail Councilmembers Michael Brown, Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson and urge them to keep Hill East united in Ward 6. If you’ve already called and e-mailed, call again! Here is their contact information:
- Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At-Large) – firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-724-8105
- Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) – email@example.com, 202-724-8058
- Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) – firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-724-8064
Note that calls are more effective than e-mails.
We will also continue to gather petition signatures through the weekend. We will have a copy of the petition at the PeterBug Day Parade and Festival on Saturday, May 21. The parade forms at 9:00 am at 19th and E Streets SE and begins at 9:30 am. The festival runs from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm at 13th and E Street SE (PeterBug Matthews Way). Please take a few moments to come out and sign the petition.
Thanks for your help and continued support!