City leaders face challenges redrawing the District of Columbia’s ward boundaries. (Courtesy photo)
City leaders face challenges redrawing the District of Columbia’s ward boundaries. (Courtesy photo)

The consideration of redrawing the ward boundaries in the District — redistricting — has started and some Ward 6 leaders are making it clear to the D.C. Council what they think the priorities should be during the three-month process.

The goal of reshaping the districts should result in more efficient governance, said Sondra Phillips-Gilbert, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who represents the Rosedale area. The process should  ensure that “fragile minority communities are not … pushed together creating more complex needs.”

She urged the redistricting committee members to avoid the “quick fix for political reasons” and to make “sure the process is inclusive to all communities and wards in the city making sure they share the burden so that we all have a fair chance to grow economically and benefit from resources that will empower all of our citizens across all wards in the nation’s capital,” she told the council’s subcommittee on redistricting on Sept. 29.

Phillips-Gilbert testified along with dozens of other residents on the redistricting process that will be led by subcommittee chair Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). The 2020 census reveals the District has 689,545 residents in the city’s eight wards.

Ward 6 has the largest population with 108,202 residents with neighboring Wards 7 and 8 with 76,235 and 78,513 people respectively. The census also revealed Ward 6 is 56 percent white and 29 percent Black. The balance of the ward’s occupants are Latino, Asian and Native American.

The subcommittee must submit a ward boundary report to the council for approval in December that shows the wards having a plus or minus five percent variance in their population.

Preliminary reports indicate the average population of each ward should be 86,193, with a variance of plus or minus 4,310 people. Subcommittee hearings in all of the wards, as well as other meetings, will occur until the end of November to allow residents to say how they want the city to be drawn. The new council boundaries will stand until 2031.

Ward 6 Leaders Speak Up

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Corey Holman, who represents 6B06 that encompasses the Potomac Avenue Metro Station area, understands that Ward 6 must lose over tens of thousands of residents to have an equitable population relative to the other wards.

“I think the council has basically two options in Ward 8 and three in Ward 7 and I think any sort of combination of those would be the best,” Holman said in an email to the Informer. “In Ward 8 you have one option — Southwest (neighborhood) below M Street — that is more diverse and plugged into D.C. And another option — the multifamily buildings of the Navy Yard — that is very white but also not really plugged into local politics and has a relatively high share of non-registered Democrats.”

Holman said the three options in Ward 7 are 15th Street NE/SE between Benning Road and Pennsylvania Ave, another one focused on Northeast expanding from Kingman Park to 11th Street NE down to East Capitol Street and possibly one Southeast-focused approach that can go all the way to Barracks Row picking up the Potomac Metro, Potomac Gardens housing project and the Harris Teeter.

“The 15th Street option is the cleanest geographically but really does take away a lot of the density from Ward 6,” Holman said, notwithstanding the predominantly Black residents at the D.C. Jail. “Any Northeast or Southeast-focused option would be centered on existing commercial activity along Benning Road or Pennsylvania [Avenue], but the 15th Street option encompasses them both.”

Additionally, Holman said the late Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry spoke correctly in 2011 when he said the Navy Yard should have been in his ward.

Southwest activist Chris Williams said his neighborhood should leave Ward 6 and become a part of Ward 8.

“The Southwest neighborhood has a large number of Black residents,” Williams said. “I feel they would be better served by being Ward 8 residents as opposed to staying in Ward 6. While I understand there will be some tension in Ward 8 if we join them, it will be healthy tension that will foster debate on the ward’s future on both sides of the river.”

Williams said he thinks Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen (D) doesn’t have the best interests of Southwest and favors developers who want to build expensive housing in the neighborhood.

However, Phillips-Gilbert wants Rosedale, a predominantly Black neighborhood, to stay in Ward 6 and not go to Ward 7.

“If Rosedale moves to Ward 7, our vote will be diluted,” she said. “In Ward 6, we will be part of a wealthy, economically prosperous ward but in Ward 7, we will be in a struggling area and I don’t want that. I think Rosedale will have more clout in Ward 6 because we are majority Black and able to be a voice for the Black community and influence elections. We couldn’t do that in Ward 7.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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