WHY I SUPPORT IN PART AND OPPOSE IN PART THE POSITION OF MY COLLEAGUES COMMISSIONERS JOHN SALATTI AND JAMES FOURNIER ON THE WARD 5 REDISTRICTING PLAN
Today, Tuesday, November 29, 2011, I attended and gave oral testimony at the hearing on B19-528, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions Boundaries Act of 2011, conducted by the D.C. Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting. I sat and listened intently to all 42 other witnesses and paid particular attention to the witnesses who spoke on the topic of what effects the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force plan may have on the Bloomingdale community. Go into the hearing, I believed (a belief that was validated by the testimony presented) that the dispute, for lack of a better term, boils down to three issues which I summarize here in the form of three questions:
1. Does respect for the democratic principle of “one person-one vote” dictate that adjustments need to be made in the proposed Single Member District (SMD) lines because of the fact that the population of many of the proposed new SMDs does not fit within the 2,000 plus or minus 5% target specified in the redistricting guidelines?
2. Would the Bloomingdale community, which is by and large represented by a single civic association, the Bloomingdale Civic Association, be adversely impacted by having its population split between two ANCs?
3. Would an ANC configuration which places the McMillan sand filtration site in an ANC other than the one in which the majority of Bloomingdale’s residents live leave the Bloomingdale community without an effective voice in the development of the McMillan site?
My friends and colleagues, Commissioner John Salatti (5C04) and Commissioner James Fournier (5C07), have been quite articulate in answering all three questions in the affirmative. And while I reach the same conclusion as to question one, for the reasons I laid out in my testimony before the Redistricting Subcommittee this afternoon, I differ with Commissioners Salatti and Fournier on questions 2 and 3. While I don’t expect to change any minds, I do encourage all of my friends in Bloomingdale, and yes, we can still be friends even if we don’t see eye to eye on every issue, to read the full text of the written testimony I submitted today.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is the text of my testimony:
ANC Redistricting Hearing Testimony-full text
Commissioner Bradley A. Thomas, ANC5C01
Let me first express my gratitude to the Honorable Co-Chairs and members of the D.C. Council’s Redistricting Subcommittee for allowing me to be heard on the issue of ANC redistricting in Ward 5. My name is Bradley Thomas and I am the Commissioner who represents Single Member District ANC5C01. I also chair the ANC5C Economic Development Committee.
The decision to testify in this matter has not been easy. I do so reluctantly because the last thing I want to do is to give the impression that I’m opposed to Bloomingdale or the way it has unified and progressed under its current leadership. On the contrary, I consider myself a supporter of Bloomingdale. Never-the-less, I rise to support the Ward 5 ANC Redistricting Task Force proposal.
I was not a member of the task force but I believe the team was fairly selected from a cross section of the ward and that it operated through a fair and open process. Like my friends from Bloomingdale, I didn’t always agree with every decision the task force made but unlike them, I don’t question the integrity of the process.
First off, I have great affinity for Bloomingdale. I’ve never mentioned this before but my roots there go back more than 80 years. As a boy, my father, with his newly divorced young mother moved to Flagler Place in 1928 or 29, shortly before the stock market crash that plunged this nation into the first Great Depression. 60 years ago, my grandmother moved from Flagler Place to the unit block of W Street, N.W., where she lived until her death almost 20 years ago, about a year after I moved into my home just south of Bloomingdale’s southern border of Florida Avenue. Thus, from a purely emotional standpoint, I want to support Bloomingdale at every juncture.
Secondly, I have nothing but respect and admiration for Bloomingdale’s current Commissioners. Hugh Youngblood is as energetic and enthusiastic as any public servant I can name. John Salatti is popular among his constituents and knowledgeable about the goings on both in and around his community. James Fournier is as thoughtful and articulate a spokesman as anyone I have met in my year on ANC5C. All three of them take very seriously the interests of their neighborhood and work tirelessly on behalf of the citizens who elected them. But I come here today because on the ingular issue of whether the redistricting plan coming from the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force adversely affects Bloomingdale, I firmly believe that their position is ill-informed and emerges from a “glass is half empty” perspective.
Let me begin by stating that I agree with my colleagues that any redistricting plan ought not have any single member districts that fall outside of the 2,000 plus or minus 5% population threshold specified in the redistricting guidelines. I strongly urge the Council to make any adjustments that might be necessary to insure that we don’t wind up with some districts with for example, fewer than 1,800 residents and others with more than 2,200. I think, from my outsider’s point of view, that that kind of tweaking can be done without scraping a generally reasonable and well thought out plan. But Commissioners Fournier, Salatti and Youngblood have articulated the position that the proposed redistricting plan will divide Bloomingdale and dilute its political voice. I respectfully disagree. The Bloomingdale Civic Association (or BCA), which represents most of the residents living within the boundaries of what are now ANCs 5C03, 5C04 and 5C07 will not be disbanded by the adoption of the redistricting proposal. The BCA will still represent those same residents. Under the new plan, however, that constituency will have a voice in not one, but two ANC’s in Ward 5. Presently, they have three votes out of 12 on ANC5C, thus representing a 25% voting block. Under the new arrangement, Bloomingdale residents will be the majority in 4 SMDs and will have one vote out of 6 (or 16 2/3 % ) on one ANC and 3 votes out of 6 (or 50 %) on another ANC in the ward. Thus overall, Bloomingdale will have a greater, not a lesser voice in Ward 5. Think of it as analogous to a set of parents, apprehensive about their daughter’s impending marriage. The best advice for those parents is “don’t think of it as losing a daughter, think of it as gaining a son.”
My colleagues in Bloomingdale also argue that the new proposal is detrimental to Bloomingdale because it takes from them control of McMillan Reservoir. With all due respect, I submit to the Council that the McMillan project does not belong to Bloomingdale but rather to all of the citizens of the District of Columbia. Furthermore, its development, with job creation, housing opportunities and environmental impact reaches far beyond Messrs. Fournier, Salatti and Youngblood’s single member districts. The storm water run off and traffic effects alone will be felt as much in my SMD, on the south side of Florida Avenue, as in Commissioner Youngblood’s SMD on the other side of the street. If Mr. Youngblood and Mr. Salatti get to have a voice in McMillan’s future, why shouldn’t ommissioner Pinkney and I be permitted to speak on behalf of our affected constituents?
Once again, I did not serve on the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force. And when I heard of the plan to change the configuration of the ward from 3 large ANC’s to 6 smaller ones, I was less than enthusiastic. ANC5C currently covers all of Ward 5 west of the railroad tracks. If we are going to divide what is now a 12 single member district ANC into 2 ANCs, logic dictates we should do so as evenly as possible. The only logical place to draw the dividing line is through Bloomingdale, the neighborhood which is geographically in the north-south center of our present ANC. If we keep all three current Bloomingdale SMDs together, we wind up with two unbalanced ANCs; either a large one on the north end and a significantly smaller one on the south, or vice versa. The opposition to the proposed split presumes that the two new ANCs cannot work together for the collective good
I respectfully disagree. If this is to be One City, then we in Ward 5, can and must function as One Ward.
In conclusion, I say to the Council that I hope the redistricting proposal put forth today will receive a favorable reading. And to my friends in Bloomingdale I say that I hope you will take a fresh look at the proposal and see the glass as half full; a chance to have more, not less, input into the affairs of the ward and the city. The bottom line is that the task force which drafted the proposal was composed of 30 or more spirited and opinionated individuals and we know from experience that whenever two or more people get together, there are going to be differences of opinion. This committee worked through its differences to reach a consensus. Would I have reached the same results? Maybe, maybe not. But I honor and respect the efforts of those who volunteered their time to take on this formidable task. If the Council needs to make minor adjustments to make the SMD population numbers work, by all means it should do so. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.