Race to the Finish: After Ugly Redistricting Meeting, Council (Barely) Settles on Map

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Yesterday afternoon, around 5:30, as a tiny audience sat in the city council chambers, former Mayor Dwaine Caraway came by and declared to Unfair Park, "I think we got something." That's right. A final redistricting map. Finally.

Caraway spoke about three hours too soon, though. Last night at 8:30, the city council finally voted, 9 to 6, to forward a map to the feds that was a mash-up of the two they had before them yesterday. It has four African-American districts (including a so-called coalition district where blacks have 45 percent of the voting age population versus 40 percent Hispanic) and four Hispanic districts (with District 5 as the new Pleasant Grove-based district) in a city with a 42-percent Hispanic population. Putting aside their many issues, Vonciel Hill and Dwaine Caraway managed to join together in support of the four black districts. But the process the council took to get their vote wasn't very pretty. There was shouting. Accusations of back-door deals and "super councils." Slavery was mentioned. Yeah. It was that bad.

Let's review. The council spent all of Wednesday morning discussing the last two redistricting maps left standing: the "combination" map proposed by council member Delia Jasso, which had five Hispanic and three African-American districts, and the Tennell Atkins-Dwaine Caraway-Carolyn Davis map, which kept four majority African-American districts. All that debating was so much fun they broke for lunch and an executive session, then came back to do it all over again.

After a full afternoon of arguing and trying to compromise, they recessed yet again. Tennell Atkins and Delia Jasso went somewhere with Mayor Mike Rawlings and came back out with a map that combined their two plans. A compromise. Sounds good, right?

Not exactly.

Several of the other council members were so unhappy they had been excluded from the final bout of map-drawing they couldn't even bring themselves to discuss the new map. Instead, what the audience witnessed was more or less a total council meltdown.

Angela Hunt began by telling the mayor, "I can't get on board with this, because it sounds to me like the districts that were most affected were not brought to the table. ... We've had such a transparent process, I'm concerned by the idea that we're moving boundaries and not talking to the council members when we're moving their districts."

Scott Griggs, whose District 3 was one of the districts whose boundaries were changed, was more direct. "I asked to be in the meeting, and the mayor declined," he said. "I also asked to speak to the mayor about this, and he declined. This is not democracy. This is heavy-handed, and this is inappropriate. I will not support it. There was an obligation to have me in the room and have me at the table. That was the wrong decision and abandoned democracy, abandoned representative democracy and abandoned transparency."

Rawlings responded that yes, it was true, he didn't let Griggs come into the meeting, but said it was because he wanted to pull together a new map quickly and then invite discussion on it. "I wanted to do the discussion here publicly," he said. "This is representative democracy. ... I'm sorry we don't have everybody in a closed room, but we do have everybody in an open room."

Next, Jasso, one of the two council members who was actually in the room with the mayor, announced she wouldn't be supporting the map anyway. "I want to thank you for your attempt at a coalition and a compromise," she told the mayor. "That was a very good stroke of positiveness. However, I will not be supporting this map. It carves up North Oak Cliff. I have the same concerns other districts might have, where several people are running against each other. I just cannot support this map." In the end, Jasso predicted those opposed to the small number of Hispanic districts would sue over the final map.

Caraway implored his fellow commissioners to just discuss the map at hand. "It's clear to me that regardless of whatever we're going to do, we're going to be without the majority unanimously," he said. But with the new map, he said, "We moved forward with something that's reached a compromise. ... We have an obligation to move forward. We've reached an agreement here that we must vote on this, put this to bed today, move it forward towards the Justice Department and move it on with the other business of this city."

Atkins, the other council member who met with the mayor, said the same thing. "There was no hanky-panky," during the meeting, he promised. "We were very transparent." Sitting beside him, Caraway called it "disingenuous" that anyone would suggest otherwise.

Rawlings tried again to tough-love his council members. "I did this quickly so we could get it out there," he said. "Every once in awhile, I've got to go work. I hope we talk about substantive issues about this map."

Griggs, though, would not be appeased so easily. "Two maps went into that room," he said. "A super-council of three people decided which map to amend, and made amendments to that map. I had less than a minute to review it. This has not been democratic in the last hour and a half."

After a few more minutes of bickering, Rawlings called another recess so Griggs could look at the map (and probably so the mayor could avoid having a ridiculous argument between his council members broadcast on television -- too late).

When they returned, Rawlings did the best he could to restore some peace. "It's good to take time out to rest, clear our heads and think about what we're doing," he told the council members. He said he felt that the maps had reached "a standoff" adding, "I was hopeful I could broker a compromise."

Griggs was still furious, though. During the break, he apparently sent out a mass email asking supporters from District 3 to come down to City Hall. About 11 people showed up, and they didn't look too happy either. The new map, he said, only had three Hispanic districts, which he called "compromising" a Latino district to make four African-American ones. (At that point, the audience pretty much had to take his word for it, because copies of the new map couldn't be distributed. It was so late in the day that the printing service was already closed.)

"We need to have an honest and open discussion about what our priorities are," Griggs said. He said the council needed to decide whether having four black districts was a top priority, and, if so, if it warranted sacrificing a Hispanic one. "We don't have a direction and we're constantly changing the rules as we go along." He called the process "rushed," and added that "at the eleventh hour and the 55th minute, we are bringing up what our priorities are. We've done this absolutely backwards."

Hill and Caraway took serious offense to the notion that four black districts would be something that needed to be voted on. Hill called the entire redistricting process "entombed in racial discussion," and, more broadly, said race has been part of the political conversation "since the time my ancestors were stolen and chained like animals" to be brought to this country.

"Anyone who claims he or she does not understand that," she said pointedly, "must have been living somewhere other than America and certainly not in Dallas."

Rawlings tried again to make peace. "My priority is to have eight minority council people around this horseshoe in the future," he said (there are currently seven). "Change is difficult. But I want to make sure everybody's priorities are clear."

"Mayor, I'm trying to be cool," Caraway replied. "But this is pandering. This is procrastination. This is stalling. And this is a slap in the face to the African-American community and the taxpayers of this city, to play these types of childish games."

Finally, with Jasso and Griggs in one camp and the African-American council members in another, and with a consensus obviously still far from being reached, Rawlings decided to call the vote. It was 9 to 6 in favor of the new map, with Ann Margolin, Carolyn Davis, Dwaine Caraway, Jerry Allen, Linda Koop, Sheffie Kadane, Atkins, Hill and Rawlings voting for it. Jasso, Griggs, Hunt, Sandy Greyson, Monica Alonzo and Pauline Medrano opposed it.

"Unbelievable," said a woman in the crowd. Griggs' supporters left en masse, in what looked like a huff.

The map will be submitted to the Department of Justice by October 15. They will have 60 days to look at it and decide whether to accept it or send it back for more work.

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