The redrawing of the District’s advisory neighborhood commission and single-member district boundaries has moved out of the hands of the residents who participated in ward task forces and into those of the city council but not without political drama.
“I thought the process was tough but I learned a lot,” said Marla Dean, a member of the Ward 7 redistricting task force. “We had representatives on our task force from every section of the ward. There were changes because Ward 7 added a new section, parts of Ward 6, and there was a great deal of discussion about that but we stayed focused on the goal of drawing lines for the ward.”
The 2020 census revealed two of the District’s eight wards, Wards 7 and 8, had to significantly redraw their boundaries in the fall because of the need to add more residents so that each ward had roughly the same number of residents. In January, the process began to redraw the commission and district boundaries in each ward by D.C. council member-appointed members of the task force.
On April 1, each ward task force submitted a report with recommendations on the new commission and district boundaries to the D.C. Office of Planning and the Subcommittee on Redistricting chaired by Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). Ultimately, the council will vote on the new commission and district boundaries in June.
The New Ward 8 Lines
Brian K. Thompson, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for 8A03 in Ward 8, served as the chairman of the ward’s task force. Thompson received the appointment from Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8).
Thompson and his fellow task force members had the mandate to integrate the Navy Yard neighborhood on the west side of the Anacostia River into the ward’s commission system.
On April 1, the report, largely prepared by Thompson with the input of task force members, fellow commissioners and residents, reported in detail that districts in the Navy Yard area that included Nationals Stadium, Yards Park, much of the Navy Yard installation and apartment buildings close to it and an area known as the “Notch” which exists north of the Navy Yard Metro Station will be in both Ward 6 and 8.
The Navy Yard area will link with Historic Anacostia and Fairlawn neighborhoods east of the river to make up the new commission 8A.
“We had some latecomers to our March 30 meeting, basically when we were all done, to say they had problems with the map,” Thompson said. “So, I gave them a March 31 deadline to email me their concerns. After that, I sent the final report to the council and the D.C. Office of Planning.”
White praised Thompson and the work of the task force, saying he has received compliments from council colleagues and other city officials on the way his ward conducted the process. He said he wanted to make sure that “a Ward 8 plan wasn’t a boondoggle.”
Ward 7 Process Faces Controversy
While Ward 8 had a relatively smooth process, the Ward 7 task force had to deal with the issue of splitting the ward with the river as a barrier.
“What most of the task force members wanted was a united ward,” said Ashley Ruff, who served on the task force. “The plan we submitted will bring economic wealth to the ward. I think it is a great idea that residents west of the river are directly connected to residents east of the river in one commission instead of two.”
Silverman listened in on the next to last meeting of the task force. She asked members why opposition to a stand-alone commission west of the river existed. Many members seemed offended by her query with some taking to social media, criticizing her for meddling when she hadn’t bothered other task forces.
Silverman said the accusations didn’t have merit.
“That’s not fair,” the council member told The Informer. “All I did was ask a question. That was very hurtful. My job as chair of the subcommittee is to make sure all of the people are being heard and whether racial diversity is being respected in the process.”
Dean said it appeared Silverman favored a separate commission west of the river. But she said throughout the process, unifying the ward served as the goal.
“We wanted a fully integrated ward, not two separate commissions on the banks of the Anacostia River,” Dean said. “The task force did what was in the best interest of the ward, not individuals and neighborhoods.”