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Students, residents disagree on ANC redistricting
On August 17, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E redistricting task force voted in favor of a proposal by ANC 2E chair Ron Lewis, Burleith Citizens Association President Lenore Rubino, and Citizens Association of Georgetown President Jennifer Altemus to re-draw the borders of the districts that elect the board’s commissioners. The plan will be subject to community comment at the next public ANC meeting before it becomes an official recommendation.
The co-chairs’ plan creates eight districts within ANC 2E, making two student-only districts with around 2,500 students in each district. Currently, there are seven districts in ANC 2E and one student-only district.
John Flanagan (SFS ‘14) submitted a separate redistricting proposal that would also split ANC 2E into eight districts, but would create two student-only districts with around 2,000 students each, as well as one mixed student and resident district, which could be winnable by either students or non-students. (Full disclosure: Flanagan is one of the editors of Vox Populi, the Voice’s blog). The ANC redistricting task force voted for the co-chair’s plan over Flanagan’s.
ANC Commissioner Jake Sticka (COL ‘13) argued that the Flanagan plan is a fairer proposal.
“Flanagan’s plan followed the redistricting code about the size of the district,” Sticka said. “The code allowed for about 10 percent size deviance [between districts] and the co-chairs’ plan has a 40 percent deviance.”
Non-student districts in the co-chairs’ plan have approximately 1,700 constituents.
Sticka also addressed the co-chairs’ response that the Flanagan plan would violate community cohesiveness.
“You have to look at what the law tells you that you need to do. The overriding factor is the size of the district. Neighborhood cohesiveness is secondary,” Sticka said. “If that’s the real concern, we would be happy to look at it again and to find a way to create that [mixed district] somewhere else, but I suspect that won’t bring us to any other compromise.”
Students argue that a mixed district could improve town-gown relations. Sticka and Flanagan said that a mixed district could encourage more students to become involved with local politics, and consequently become more engaged with the issues of the surrounding community. While a mixed district would create a competitive seat for students, the seat could fall either to a student or a non-student commissioner.
While some students called the co-chairs’ plan a form of gerrymandering, Lewis disagreed.
“I understand [the students’ view] but I don’t agree with it,” he said. “Over the past ten years, we’ve had tremendous variety in the number of people within the district.”
He pointed out that District 05 and District 01, both non-student districts, have had 2,500 constituents over the past ten years. Each district will shrink by approximately 100 constituents in the co-chairs’ redistricting plan, maintaining approximately 2,400 constituents.
“We’re not creating two 2,500 districts where everything else is 1,600-1,700,” Lewis said.
The largest concern for those who support the co-chairs’ plan is that the Flanagan plan would break up cohesiveness of the Burleith community. “If having a third student representative disenfranchises active and engaged residents who have real issues, I think there’s something wrong with that,” said Lewis. He argued that the 5,000 students on campus do not warrant the possibility of three student commissioners.
Lewis also called for more neutral dialogue that avoided terms like gerrymandering.
“I don’t think that how the districts are redistricted is anywhere near as important as the University and residents working on their relationship,” he said.
Lewis cited common interests between the community and the students like strict campus party rules and safety issues, and argued that the University could make policy changes that would be favorable to both students and residents.
“I think the University makes it harder than it should be for the students to be on campus,” he said.
Rubino and Altemus did not respond to requests for interviews.