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Post-K Population Losses Spur City Council Horse Trading During NOLA Redistricting
A breakdown of the local redistricting process. Every district, every border dispute, and every call for secession.
The state legislature has been carving up the electoral map quicker than Paul Prudhomme takes to a turducken. But that's on hold for now, so it's time to turn the focus to the local redistricting process. Every ten years, the City Council attempts to shift the boundaries of each of its five districts so they all contain the exact same number of people.
Last year's Census indicated the city's population is down almost 30 percent. But the huge losses, mostly the result of Katrina displacements, have not been equally distributed. As a result, this year's redistricting requires a drastic redrawing of borders. City Council President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson said this year requires “the greatest redistricting New Orleans has ever seen.” While some neighborhoods wish to stay together, or be made whole again, other areas will have to sacrifice numbers, so that others can gain.
The reason for this painful process every ten years (following each Census headcount) is the one person, one vote, principle. Because each district elects one councilmember, if there are 5,000 residents in one district, and 10,000 in another, the 5,000 will have double the voting power. Redistricting is supposed to balance the voting power of each individual.
Though many dispute the accuracy of the 2010 Census numbers, the flawed numbers are nonetheless used in order to be consistent in process, not accurate in reality. Five years after Katrina, the 2010 Census counted 343,829 people living in New Orleans (29% drop since the last Census count in 2000). The total number in Orleans Parish – 343,829 -- now has to be divvied up between the five districts. This year's magic population number for each district is 68,765.
During the last two months, each of the five districts held two public meetings about redistricting, allowing residents to voice their concerns and suggestions to their Council members. For the next two months, the Council will use what their constituents said to put together a plan by August. The following is a sum of what NoDef heard at these meetings, and a rundown of the possible scenarios playing out on the map.
First, here is a map of the current district borders.
Katrina caused the most population loss in District D (Gentilly and parts of Lakeview) and District E (New Orleans East and Lower Ninth). In District A (Uptown and Lakeview) and District C (French Quarter, CBD, Marigny, Algiers), where residents have come back quicker, population tallies were closer to 2000 numbers. Because Districts D and E have lost the most residents since Katrina, the two districts will need to make large land grabs in order to meet the population benchmark. As a result, Districts A and C stand to lose.
Currently, District D has about 58,350 residents and will need to acquire just over 10,400 more residents to meet the 68,765 benchmark. District E is just shy of 56,100 residents and will need to acquire just under 12,700. District B (Mid-City and Garden District) has about 70,900 residents, which places the district within the benchmark range, by the grace of an acceptable +/-5% wiggle-room that allows a minimum of 65,327 residents and a maximum of 72,203 residents. While not required, District B may make some changes to its borders in order to help the other four districts shift around. Since Districts A and C are the most populated districts, with 77,166 and 81,330 residents, respectively, District A must lose 8,401 residents, while District C must lose 12,565.
Bending Borders: Redistricting Fault Lines
During the redistricting meetings, residents from District E, which contains the Lower Ninth and most of New Orleans East, unanimously wanted Kenilworth to be redrawn under District E again, which would restore New Orleans East as a whole under one district. District E needs those numbers, and its residents want that neighborhood.
The area of Kenilworth, which is currently under District D, extends from District E’s northwestern border (Shubrick St.), down to I-10, and west to the Industrial Canal. This area has about 15,409 people. If District E extends its borders to the Industrial Canal, it would have 71,487 residents, placing them within the acceptable benchmark range. Problem solved for District E. But not for District D.
If District E takes back Kenilworth, District D will lose those 15,409 residents, leaving it with 42,943 residents. But it would still be more than 25,800 residents below its benchmark. That’s a big number, which will force District D to expand westward and make large land grabs into District A (Uptown/Lakeview) and District C (Treme/French Quarter/Marigny/Bywater/Algiers). Here on District D’s borders is where the battle of redistricting will get ugly. Because District A needs to lose 8,401 residents, and District C needs to lose 12,565 residents, neighborhoods may either be split under two districts, or be handed over in whole to District D, possibly against their will.
Directly west of District D are City Park and Lakeview, both currently under District A, which needs to lose about 8,400 people. Residents of Lakeview who attended redistricting meetings generally wanted to make Lakeview whole under one district again, and preferably in District A, as parts of Lakeview are currently under District D. But because District D needs all the numbers it can get, District D will most likely extend further into Lakeview. That would leave Lakeview divided under two districts for another ten years, which is riling residents.
In a District A meeting held at 1st Baptist Church on May 12, residents of Lakeview generally wanted to reunite with the parts of Lakeview currently in District D (the eastern side of City Park to Elysian Fields), and preferred to remain in District A, the only district with a white majority in New Orleans. Cloaked in talk about communities of interest, their suggestions indirectly alluded to a white retention of Lakeview. Peppi Bruneau, who represented District 94 in theLouisiana House of Representatives from 1976 until his retirement in April 2007, and is referred to as “Mr. Lakeview,” spoke out at the District A meeting in favor of keeping Lakeview whole and under District A. His reasoning, he said, was to keep “like-neighborhoods” together. Afterwards, District A resident Joe Jones rose and addressed Bruneau’s concerns, recalling the history of gerrymandering - or the practice of carving up districts along purely political or racial lines - in New Orleans, and the opportunity at hand now to stop it:
“Every ten years we have to deal with this. It’s always a sensitive issue when you’ve got to make changes to neighborhoods that are comfortable the way they are, where people feel they belong. But what is my concern is that we don’t look at this from one view, but from all views. New Orleans is gerrymandered… District A has never had a minority Councilperson. We’ve got to look at redistricting as a way to slowly but surely begin the process of bringing fairness back to the system.”
Whether residents like it or not, District D will most likely move further westward into Lakeview. How much further into Lakeview? As much as District A can afford to lose: about 8,400 people. But that still leaves District D far from its goal.
The Great Sacrifice: Breaking Up the Old City
District C is made up of New Orleans' oldest historic neighborhoods: French Quarter, Treme, Marigny, Bywater, and Algiers. Despite the wishes of many residents and business associations for these neighborhoods to remain together under one district, this cultural conglomerate will have to be broken up and partly given to District D. Algiers will not be tampered with because, besides being on the other side of the river, its residents would have a fit if Algiers were to be broken up into pieces. They made that clear during recent redistricting meetings, as some residents even proposed seccession to become its own district. Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer, who resides in Algiers, had to turn down the proposal with a smile, because Algiers is not large enough to become its own district.
So the roughly 12,500 residents District C must lose will have to come from C’s other portion across the river – French Quarter, Treme, CBD, Marigny, and Bywater – which Palmer admitted with pain at the meetings. She did not specify which of these areas she will let go, but because Treme borders with District D and has a similar racial make-up, the neighborhood could go to D, in addition to other areas.
Assuming District D gives Kenilworth to District E, if both Districts A and C make their necessary population cuts (8,401 and 12,565, respectively), and give them to District D, that leaves District D with about 63,900 residents, which is still below the benchmark. If Districts A, B, and C give D a little more than what is required of them, while remaining still within their benchmark range, then D can meet its benchmark.
‘The Finger’: Mid-City and Faubourg St. John
If you look at the map, find District C, then Esplanade Ave., and follow it north to a slender outgrowth of District A in the Treme-Seventh Ward area. This is known in the annals of Council lore as “The Finger”. This thorn of what may or may not have been a result of gerrymandering has been a topic of debate in many of the redistricting meetings in the past two months.
Residents of Mid-City (which is mostly in District B) and Faurbourg St. John urged Councilmember Stacy Head of District B not to keep their neighborhoods chopped up among Districts A, B, and C, and instead to put Mid-City and Faubourg St. John together under one district. But, Mid-City and Faubourg St. John will most likely remain divided, possibly with District D joining in the fun. Councilwoman Susan Guidry of District A may be reluctant to lose Faubourg St. John because she lives there, is the former President of Parkview Neighborhood Association and served as a member of the Bayou St. John Conservation Alliance Steering Committee. Above all, if the neighborhood she lives in is redrawn to another district, Guidry would lose her council seat and the ability to run next election. While District C will most likely give up The Finger and give it to D, uncertainty still remains in this area. What we can expect is Faubourg St. John will not be wholly unified under one district with Mid-City anytime soon.
Redistricting along Racial Lines
Other than equalizing the sheer population sizes of each district, there is another major concern every time redistricting comes around in New Orleans. Due to our unflattering history of gerrymandering, Louisiana is one of eight other states that must undergo a special process during redistricting to ensure minority populations are not discriminated against. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 5, Louisiana, along with Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, must submit its redistricting plans to the Department of Justice for review. The Department of Justice looks at the changes in “minority” populations of each district and decides whether or not those changes are discriminatory against “minority” populations. (“Minority” with quotations because what Section 5 defines as “minority” is non-white, not what minority actually means, which is the population that is not the majority in number, despite what color they are. In New Orleans, there is a majority of blacks in four of the five districts, and it’s just plain wrong to call them a minority-majority because, as one resident of District A said during a meeting last week, “Calling it a minority-majority means us blacks can never really be the majority”).
The Department of Justice would reject redistricting plans if, for example, it reduces the 53 percent black majority in District B to below half. Dannie P. Garrett III, who represented Redistricting LLC. at all of the meetings in the past two months, said that the DOJ would also most likely reject plans if an influx of whites join District D, causing the current 86 percent black majority to fall below 80 percent, and jeopardizing its supermajority.
Since Section 5 of the Voting Rights of 1965 directs the DOJ to specifically look at changes in the non-white populations, the DOJ would most likely not reject plans that would jeopardize a district’s white majority. This is relevant for District A, which has a 64% white majority, that may decrease due to the district’s requirement to lose 8,401 of its residents to meet the 68,765 population benchmark. To those Lakeview residents who wish to keep “like-neighborhoods” together, beware of change this round of redistricting.
Here is more information on the principles of redistricting.
You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also mail or fax a printed copy of the Districts map
Please include your name and contact information with submissions.
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