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2B or Not 2B? Council Debates Redistricting

Majority of city council expresses preference for redistricting option which keeps them all in their seats.

Hyattsville's City Council moved closer to a consensus on redistricting last night, with many council members voicing tentative support for one option in particular. 

"What I am hearing is 2B or not 2B, that is the question," observed Council Vice President David Hiles towards the end of the meeting. 

No, he's not trying to translate Hamlet's famous soliloquy into text-message shorthand, he's referring to which at least six members of the city council said they could consider voting for. 

Option 2B is a fairly safe bet for the sitting members of the city council. Unlike some of the other plans, 2B does not unseat any incumbents, avoiding the need for special elections to sort out ward representation after a redistricting takes place. It also creates a Hispanic minority-opportunity ward in Ward 4, which would have a 50 percent hispanic population. 

By law, Hyattsville must redraw its ward boundaries after every federal census so that the ward populations are as equal as possible. 

put forth a number of proposals to redraw the city's five wards, and

Councilor Eric Winguard (Ward 1) said that while reducing the number of wards or city council members could be beneficial, the timing of such a move would not be ideal considering the staffing problems already before the city. He then said he is open to voting for plan 2A or 2B. 

Councilor Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) said that while alternative council structures should be seriously considered, she doubted that there existed the political will to make those proposals a reality. 

"Going through an alternative alignment would probably be risky and time consuming," said Hollingsworth, who declared a preference for Option 7, which creates a four-ward city council. "A four-ward council structure gives us the greatest chance for civic involvement across all four wards."

Citing the difficulties in getting an alternative scheme passed, Hollingsworth also expressed preference for Option 5, which keeps the current council ward structure, unseats no incumbents, and creates a 52 percent Hispanic minority majority ward in Ward 4. 

Councilor Paula Perry (Ward 4) noted failed past attempts to change the council structure. 

"That has been talked about for so many years," said Perry. "The majority of the citizens did not want it." 

Perry expressed a preference for Option 2B. 

Councilor Ruth Ann Frazier also expressed a preference for Option 2B, while also pleading for the council not to change the structure of city council. 

"I just think that that could be the best one to go with," said Frazier. "After looking at them all and considering them, that's my choice."

Councilor Tim Hunt (Ward 3) also said he was leaning towards option 2B. 

"It does give a 50 percent Hispanic population for Ward 4," said Hunt. "I just don't think the timing is right for a number of reasons, and ultimately, I don't think it'd get the support of the residents. I really do think we'd hear it."

Councilor Matthew McKnight (Ward 3), while urging his colleagues not to consider incumbency when selecting a preferred redistricting proposal, also said that he prefers Option 2B. 

But he also lent his voice to the four-ward Option 7. Like the others, though, he was resigned to the fact that Option 7 likely would not be supported by the council as a whole or the public.

No action was taken on the redistricting proposals at last night's meeting, with Councilor Shani Warner (Ward 2) and Hunt calling to hold off on the vote while they sought feedback from residents. They were also motivated to hold off on the vote by the absences of Councilors Nicole Hinds Mofor (Ward 5) and Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4).

Mayor Marc Tartaro agreed. 

"There is some sense of urgency which I agree with, but having the opportunity to have residents respond and to hear from our two absent colleagues makes a lot of sense," said Tartaro. "If everyone showed up and there was total clarity, I still think it'd be a good idea to wait a week."

Tartaro did not, however, disclose a preference for which redistricting plan he might support. 

"This doesn't actually affect me, ironically, because I am the mayor," said Tartaro. "I am not planning on running for council member ever again–good news for everybody–and I would like to avoid having to express an opinion on the matter."

The redistricting debate will come back before city council in a bit. Tartaro floated the idea of having a special session on Wednesday, May 2 devoted solely to redistricting, but no official action was taken on this suggestion at last night's meeting.

Tim Hunt April 19, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Another clarification - I do not think the timing is right for changing the number of wards (nor would I necessarily agree with it even if the timing were perfect). The timing is right for a Hispanic minority opportunity ward. Tim
Shani April 19, 2012 at 01:35 PM
As I said last night, the three options I like, in my order of preference, are 7, 2b, and 5. (Shani Warner, Ward 2 Council Member)
Michael Theis April 19, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Holy cow. I'm looking through my article now and I'm realizing that I didn't include your preferences, Councilor Warner. My apologies. I am, however, still working on getting my hands on the public comment submitted to the city regarding redistricting, and your lengthly letter to the redistricting committee will be highlighted there.
Nick April 20, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Drawing districts on the basis of race is unconstitutional.
Michael Theis April 20, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Nick, you're going to have to break out some citations on that one, but I doubt you'll find any. The Supreme Court has said that redistricting can take race and ethnicity into consideration so long as the districts or wards are not patently gerrymandered. In writing the majority opinion in Shaw v. Reno (the infamous 1994 case which forms the foundation for the case laws surrounding race and redistricting today), Justice Sandra D. Oconnor wrote that "when members of a racial group live together in one community, a reapportionment plan that concentrates members of the group in one district and excludes them from others may reflect wholly legitimate purposes. The district lines may be drawn, for example, to provide for compact districts of contiguous territory, or to maintain the integrity of political subdivisions." And having sat in on a number of the city's redistricting committee meetings, that is exactly what they are aiming to do. Source: http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/departments/scr/REDIST/red907.htm#MaximizingMinorityRepresentation
Sarah Nemeth May 03, 2012 at 04:12 AM
When I was there, I lived in 4 of the 5 wards and remember feeling like they all had very specific -- and different -- feels. Wards 1, 2 and 3 felt decidedly more like suburbia while some portions of 3 and 4 seemed a lot like the bad section of Niagara Falls, where I refuse to drive even at age 31. What about abolishing all wards and forming a mini-monarchy? I vote for King Currie at the top of the hill ;-)

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