City Hall

Redistricting Commission Nixes Halstead's Map But Praises the Work of One Sam Merten

At last, an interesting Redistricting Commission meeting. And a vaguely star-studded one too. Among those in attendance at last night's meeting: council members Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis and Tennell Atkins (who didn't stick around the whole time), Schutze debating partner Sandra Crenshaw, preservationist Virgina McAlester and former plan commissioner Neil Emmons. Now, then, to the fireworks -- or what passed for them last night at City Hall.

At least one plan for re-drawing our fair city's city council boundaries appears to be dead: Commissioner Donna Halstead's map, which the commission voted 8-7 last night to "postpone indefinitely" -- this, after a discussion of the legislative and semantic differences between "tabling" and "postponing indefinitely" that went on for so long that most of the audience members either left or vaporized from boredom. The map, proposed by the president of the Dallas Citizens Council, won't be brought up again unless a commission member moves to do so, which looks unlikely.

Fellow commissioner Domingo Garcia -- like Halstead, a former member of the Dallas City Council -- was the most outspoken critic of her map, which he repeatedly argued would effectively disenfranchise minority voters in the city. He said it had the lowest Hispanic percentage of maps presented so far. "I don't think it can be fixed," he said.

Halstead's original map, cPlan10, included seven minority districts and two minority coalition districts, which didn't change much upon revision. Garcia was skeptical of the very concept of a "minority coalition" district, something he brought up during the presentation of the map designed by Shirley Stark, a District 4 resident who had several such coalition districts in her plan.

"Since 1991, can you name one Anglo majority district that elected an African-American or a Hispanic?" he asked Stark.

She couldn't.


"Would it surprise you to learn that the number is zero?" he said. "Blacks and browns will vote for an Anglo, but it appears the north side of town still has a problem ... voting for anyone black or brown."

Aside from Stark, the other civic-minded members of the public who submitted maps were Bill Betzen (his third); Benjamin Lopez, a 26-year-old corporate recruiter; and Some Dude Who Used to Work Here Named Sam Merten.

The commission was absolutely tickled by the opportunity to interview Sam, who's arguing that Deep Ellum should be blocked with East Dallas and whose plan, like Benjamin Lopez's, does away with Pauline Medrano's district.

"I've been covering city of Dallas politics for a long time," he told the commission, adding that the computer program the City has provided to let the public design their own maps was "addictive." I guess we all have our own ideas of what constitutes a fun leisure-time activity.

Commissioner Elizabeth Jones just had one question for Merten after his presentation. "What would it take for you to move back to Dallas?"

Despite the fact that the commission has encouraged members of the public to submit maps, they were a little more befuddled by the presence of Lopez, who said he's never gotten involved in city politics before. John Loza, a commission member, found at least three different ways to ask him, politely, why the hell anyone would spend their free time re-drawing city districts. "I don't claim to be an expert at this," Lopez said. "But I take pride in my community."

Garcia added during the discussion of Halstead's map that he has yet to see a "unity map" that fairly represents all of the city's residents. Maybe this is a phrase we should expect to see again Thursday night, when the commissioners have their final deadline to submit their own plans.