The Wash

Redistricting heats up along U Street

Debates intensified over a relatively small redistricting proposal, at times becoming muddled, confusing, and downright offensive.

Residents in Dupont Circle warn of dire political ramifications for redistricting several blocks below 14th & U Street into Ward 1, potentially diluting voting power of the LGBTQ community.

ANC2b Commissioner Mike Silverstein said one issue surrounded neighborhood definition.

“The area North of U Street is largely considered Adams Morgan,” Silverstein said. “And the people who are South of U Street, the vast majority of them, appear to consider themselves residents of Dupont Circle or North Dupont.”

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said she’s witnessed firsthand the challenges to coordinating services and planning along a divided U Street, first as an ANC commissioner and now on the Council. Reuniting U Street remained a focus for her since the last redistricting, she said.

“I thought it was just confusing and concerning that the word ‘culture’ was being used about how the south side of U Street had a different ‘culture’ than the north side of the street,” Nadeau said. “In our hearing, I tried to get to the bottom of what that meant, and I’m still not clear.”

Silverstein said the ANC’s chair and treasurer might see their homes shifted to Ward 1 under the proposal, both of whom were involved in the Pride Parade planning. He said D.C. human rights laws consider the Gay community as a minority community afforded the same laws and protections as other minority groups.

“If they’re going to say that they’re protecting the voting rights of African Americans, there may be some issues if they don’t protect the voting rights of LGBT people,” he said.

A spokesperson for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Sean Meloy, said D.C. boasts the highest number of LGBTQ residents per capita nationally, and that it’s disappointing the city lacks a gay member of the council.

Meloy said the issue rests in the absence of ward-by-ward data and that the idea of keeping track of LGBTQ communities in census data is relatively new.

“Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it should be ignored,” he added.

No matter what, the District needs a long-term plan to get a better sense of the density of LGBTQ populations in discussions around redistricting, Meloy said.

Census tracts 42.01, 43 and 44 (left to right) make up the disputed area, currently split down the middle of U and 14th Street between Wards 1 and 2. Reuniting the census tracts would bring them into one ward, proponents said, while the rallying cry heard South of U Street surrounded ‘keeping the neighborhood together’.

Coded language and unsavory remarks

John Hassle didn’t pay much attention to redistricting until he noticed some of the language tossed around.

“Words that people are saying ‘we’re trying to preserve our community or culture,’ kind of remind me of not very welcoming terms,” said Hassle. “What’s happening in our country is that people are congregating in groups that are more and more like themselves.”

Sam Rosen-Amy, Chief of Staff for Councilmember Elissa Silverman, said the committee received lots of feedback from across the District, mostly telling the council they don’t want their neighborhoods to change wards.

At the city-wide hearing, around half of the 70 speakers came to testify against the proposals below U Street.

“I think it is a sign that they’re very motivated and have the ability to come join a hearing to make that known,” Rosen-Amy said. “Not everyone can join a hearing and that’s one thing we got to be aware of.”

He said the committee worked hard to expand how residents can participate offline. When asked what he saw as interesting highlights so far, he offered two anecdotes, and said one felt more productive than the other.

“We heard very loud and clear from the Southwest community that the community should stay together, whichever ward it ends up in,” he said. “And so that’s something we’re taking very seriously.”

Other feedback seemed less productive, he said.

“One Ward 2 resident was disparaging Ward 1, which the Council Member reacted pretty strongly to,” Rosen-Amy said. “We want to emphasize that we’re all District residents, we’re all neighbors, and we will continue to be District residents and neighbors at the end of this.”

Lauren Weiss lives around the area affected by the proposals just West of 14th Street and below U Street. Weiss said she and her partner take their child to daycare in Ward 1 and go to synagogue in Ward 3. She said she didn’t know redistricting was controversial in D.C. until she started hearing from some neighbors.

Discussion map 3 moves the boundary West to 15th street.

“Our portion of 17th Street is certainly seen as the heart of the gayborhood, so to speak,” Weiss said, noting events like the annual High Heel Race and the Pride Parade.

“But those things happen here because of the power of the predominantly white male, cis gay community in the city,” she said. “The Pride Parade doesn’t happen in Wards 7 and 8, not because there aren’t queer people there, but because white cis gay men with power keep it in their neighborhood where they’ve lived for a very long time.”

Weiss said she spoke at an ANC2b meeting last week to express how she felt redistricting wasn’t worth treating as a crisis.

“I think people obviously very much associate themselves with where they live. That’s very important to people,” she said. “I think, more cynically, there’s a lot of fear of losing access to power.”

She said many enjoy strong relationships within the leadership of various community organizations and having a commissioner who they’ve known for a long time feels comfortable.

“They’re not bad people. They feel very passionate about this issue because they’ve seen an enormous change in the neighborhood.” Weiss said. “And I think that they have liked almost all of the changes they’ve seen in the neighborhood over the last 30 years.”

Robin Nunn serves as commissioner for ANC2B03. She voted against the ANC’s resolution to oppose redistricting and said it was inappropriate. Much of what she heard she found racist and disappointing, she said.

“Shaw, Adams Morgan, looks more diverse, people are scared. The idea that we’re going to be grouped with ‘those people’ scares them,” Nunn said. “And as an African American woman, I cannot relate.”

She said she thought the split vote on the resolution showed dissensus around the issue, having passed at 5-2.

“Anyone with half a brain can see through what you’re up to. Like, this isn’t a new day,” Nunn said. “We’ve been fighting this fight since slavery.”

Nunn said an ANC weighing in on redistricting presents a conflict of interests as it directly affects their position and jurisdictions.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that racist language came out of this redistricting,” Nunn said. “I think much of that language was promulgated by several of the ANC 2b commissioners.”

Benjamin Merrick lives on the ward boundary by 14th Street in an area covered by the proposals. He said he didn’t pay much attention to redistricting until he got an email from a neighbor.

Discussion map 1 moves the boundary West to 18th street.

“This letter was like, as close as you can be to being explicitly racist without being explicitly racist,” Merrick said. “But it was very much saying the quiet part out loud.”

He said he didn’t believe anyone’s day-to-day life would change from redistricting and was alarmed by what he heard.

“It’s like a psychic thing about how people identify that is completely arousing racism and like implicit racism in people,” he said. “As somebody who lives in this neighborhood, it’s just super disappointing.”

Commissioner Sabel Harris for ANC 1B12 said she didn’t give it much thought when the census numbers first came out. Harris added that she can see Ward 2 from her window.

She said another commissioner tagged her in a post on Twitter, and she heard it said that U Street was not a neighborhood.

“That’s when my ears perked up a bit and I went ‘excuse me’?” she said.

Harris began to follow the conversation and noticed arguments by folks disparaging U Street and Ward 1.

“I was very shocked and disappointed because they had some very kind of racist undertones to it,” she said.

She added that she strongly disagreed with the ANC2b resolution passed last week.

“Normally, I would hold back a little bit and be mindful, but I think it’s ridiculous and absurd that they spent time after the redistricting hearing focusing in on something like that,” Harris said. “And I am very disgusted by the commissioners who decided to let some of the comments continue going, instead of stepping in and saying, ‘hey, these comments are not okay.’”

Alec D'Angelo

I am a graduate journalism student and writer at American University covering the Woodley Park and Adams Morgan neighborhoods this semester.

I recently graduated from The George Washington University where I studied political science and journalism.

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