By Melissa Silverman
Every decade, the boundaries of all eight wards of Washington, DC are reconsidered in a redistricting process that aims to ensure equitable representation across the city.
The 2020 Census recorded the District’s population as 689,545, which means that, by law, each ward should have between 81,883 and 90,503 residents.
Under current boundaries, Ward 6 stretches from Independence Avenue and 14th Street NW, near the Smithsonian metro stop, north to Shaw, east to NoMa, down nearly to RFK Stadium and back along the Southwest Waterfront. With significant growth in areas from Union Market to Navy Yard, Ward 6 is now 17,699 residents over the maximum threshold, which means some Ward 6 residents will be redistricted into the only underpopulated wards in DC – Ward 7 and Ward 8.
“There is no question that certain neighborhoods in Ward 6 have seen an explosion of growth in terms of population,” said At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson, a member of the DC Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting. “While all of the Wards grew since [the last census in] 2010, Ward 6 grew at a rate of 41% — that’s double Ward 5 which had the second highest percentage of change. Some of that development was anchored in choices from government, for example, a number of DC government agencies moved to Southwest and NoMa and the U.S. Department of Transportation is located in Navy Yard. Other development came from public-private investment in projects like The Wharf and City Market at O in Shaw. Growth in my mind is not a bad thing, but it does mean, for this process, we have to rebalance. And in this case, Ward 6 shares boundaries with two Wards, both east of the Anacostia River, that must add people.”
At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, (no relation to the author) who chairs the Subcommittee on Redistricting, told The Southwester that while she doesn’t yet know where the new ward lines will be drawn and that she is keeping an open mind while listening to residents across the city, she does know one thing for sure.
“Ward 6 boundaries will change,” Silverman said. “There will be a shift in population out of Ward 6, and those folks are going to be rebalanced into another ward. I don’t know what Wards 7 and 8 will look like, but they need to grow. Either Ward 7, Ward 8, or both are going to go westward and cross the river.”
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser echoed the sentiment in a recent community meeting with the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, noting that a map with no changes to Ward 6 is simply not possible given the imbalance of residents compared to other wards. Bowser suggested that redistricting following the previous census left Ward 6 larger than it should have been even prior to the growth of the past decade.
“It was made a more difficult decision this time because hard decisions weren’t made last time,” Bowser said.
Though the mayor has no formal role in the redistricting process, Bowser shared her personal experience serving as a Ward 4 Councilmember following the 2000 redistricting process, which saw portions of Chevy Chase move from Ward 3 to Ward 4.
“While I wasn’t around for the debate and I didn’t participate leading up to it, I think the whole city benefited from the final decision. It made for a diversity of opinions and views and I think it made the ward stronger,” Bowser said.
The demographics of Ward 6 in its current form include a population that is 49% white and 39% Black, making it among the most racially mixed wards in the city. Wards 7 and 8 are more than 90% Black.
“Race is always a big issue in district politics, and it will be an issue in redistricting,” Silverman said. “We’ve had a really honest discussion so far about race and demographics. I’m not going to tolerate what I consider racist statements or racial dog whistles about why people can’t live in one ward or the other.”
Silverman said another factor in the redistricting process is geographical continuity to ensure political boundaries are compact and contiguous. She is also prioritizing keeping “communities of interest” together and said she has heard directly from Southwest residents in favor of keeping Southwest together as a neighborhood.
“This is the District’s opportunity to take all aspects of our communities into account as we rebalance our Wards to ensure equal and fair political representation,” Henderson said. “I’ll be looking at maintaining whole census tracts, minimizing “islands,” which can come from haphazardly splitting neighborhoods, promoting racial diversity where we can, and ensuring our proposal makes logical sense. Overall, I hope to get as many DC residents engaged in the redistricting process as possible.”
Resident input is a critical factor in the redistricting process, as Silverman says she is committed to a redistricting process that is “understandable, accessible, and transparent.” Her office is deploying an outreach budget established by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and has created multiple channels for resident input.
“We have released a mapping tool so residents can participate in the process for themselves,” Silverman said. “This allows residents to participate in the redistricting process by submitting their own recommendation on how to rebalance the population.” The mapping tool is available at https://dcredistricting.esriemcs.com/redistricting/.
In addition, the Redistricting Subcommittee, which includes at-large Councilmember Anita Bonds along with Henderson and Silverman, is holding multiple public hearings, including one for each ward. Ward 6’s dedicated hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, November 3, at 10:00 a.m. For more information or to sign up to testify, visit elissasilverman.com/redistricting.
Silverman invites residents and community groups or organizations to reach out to her office to share their input or arrange conversations.
“My job is to make sure that we meet the Constitutional requirement and that we have a process where everyone is heard who wants to be heard,” Silverman said.
The Redistricting Subcommittee will make recommendations to the full Council, which will vote on the new ward boundaries in time for the primary election in June 2022. The redistricting process also affects Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) boundaries, although those will be drawn after the new ward boundaries and voted on by the full Council in time for the November 2022 general election, when ANC members are elected.