"We Shouldn't Be Afraid of That Passion": A Chat With Mayor Rawlings About Redistricting

Had a brief chat with Mayor Mike Rawlings last night concerning what appears to be the never-ending process of redistricting, about which the city council will get an earful this morning from Latino leaders who insist they're not properly represented on the map the council approved to send to the Department of Justice two weeks ago. Rawlings acknowledges: He's had many conversations about many folks since that vote was taken -- "many Hispanic leaders, many African-American leaders, Anglos as well" -- all in the hope that somewhere, somehow they could come to the compromise that so far has yet to emerge in the argument over how to divvy up districts in a city where 42 percent of the population is Hispanic and African-American leaders demand four "winnable" districts.

"I was very disappointed in the leaders of all communities not compromising early in this process, and they are still not compromising," Rawlings says. "What makes great government is compromise, and I didn't hear it from the Latinos when the African-Americans were trying to rustle through this, and I am pushing for the African-Americans to it now with Latino leaders. I am hopeful. I am working on it. It's not over till the DOJ stamps 'approved.' It really is a matter of people sitting down and wanting to work with one another."

On the other side, a brief Q&A with the mayor, who insists that despite all the hand-wringing and hand-holding the process worked as it should -- and quietly made history, without anyone even noticing.

What's your assessment of how this redistricting process worked -- or, at time, didn't work?

First of all, I think there are two important facts. For the first time in Dallas's history, we have eight winnable minority districts. OK? There is a criticism day in and day out that this is an Anglo-run city, and we have a majority of minority districts that are very winnable. Nobody's pointed to that. So I feel very good about that.

The second thing I feel good about is: All this has been very, very transparent. I purposefully tried to get this all aboveboard so everyone sees what's happening. There's no question there are discussions taking place behind the scenes. I've had conversations with Latinos and blacks and have asked them to have lunch together. But anything substantive has to be pushed up, and I am making sure anything with two or three people talking, we're going to talk about it in a very public fashion. That's difficult for people to deal with, but that's the truth.

I appreciate the work the Redistricting Commission did. Eighty-five, 90 percent of their map was endorsed [by the council]. We worked on that other 15 percent. And that's OK. You can endorse the lions' share of something and deal with the rest.

Two weeks ago the council put on quite the display. What's your take on how that went down?

I didn't have any point of reference. I talked to people there 10, 20 years ago, and they said the civility is much better. These things are all relative. I am proud of the civility the city council did their work in. Hey, look, when someone's passionate about something, they can be passionate. If it's Latinos or Occupy Dallas, whatever it is, there's no problem with that. We shouldn't be afraid of that passion. We should ask for civility.

The map hasn't yet gone to the Department of Justice, but will within two weeks. Obviously the one approved two weeks ago can't be changed between now and then, but there could be tweaks after it goes in front of the feds. Do you think the map we wind up with will be different than the one that passed council with a 9-6 vote?

I can't predict. You're asking me to be an odds-maker, and I would say the odds are the DOJ is going to ... This is the odds-on favorite to be approved vis-à-vis the other maps out there. We were trying to be responsive to Ms. Jasso and to Mr Griggs when they pointed out what was wrong with the African-American substitute motion. Their issue was North Oak Cliff not being united, we united those neighborhoods, and now the issue is you've got two city council people potentially living in the same district. We cannot worry about where people live. We have to do right by the community as a whole. We have to be as contiguous as possible and keep neighborhoods of like interests together. I am not saying this map is perfect. No map is ever perfect.

Several friends of mine who were never particularly political became deeply engaged in redistricting, showing up to several public hearings and at least one City Hall on a Saturday afternoon. All say the same thing now: They felt as though they wasted their time -- that the council ultimately voted to protect some incumbents and the expense of really unifying some of those "neighborhoods of like interests" that remain separated. They still don't feel like they're in the right place ...

The question is: Why? Is it income? The way they keep their yards? I've heard this too, and it gets real vague, and it gets around personalities. It's either about that or race. And to me, I think we as a city must be integrated at a council level, at a neighborhood level.

Can you explain why District 1 [currently Jasso's district] is one Domingo Garcia and the Latino Redistricting Task Force don't count as a "winnable" district for Latinos? Domingo tried telling Anna what he was talking about, but ...

The core issue is the Latino community has been a major growth element in tis city, and it's one of the reasons Dallas will continue to be very successful. The question on the table is: How do we get their voice around the table and govern the city in the right way? That's tricky.

District 1 is a winnable Latino district, with 75 percent of the population and 54 percent of the population bearing Spanish surnames. I think if the Latinos had the right candidate, it's very winnable. I voted for that in good faith knowing we have a lot of good Latino candidates. I'm not the voter. They have to make the decision on their own, and folks in North Oak Cliff don't say, "I'm voting for a white name." That's not the case.

I am not trying to be the person who is making the decisions. I was trying to coalesce the wisdom of the commission and the council. Anything we had, there would have been an intelligent minority on the opposite side. But this is where the council ended up. I'll tell ya: In some ways it's been one of the most interesting things I've done in my life. I see people who've thought a lot about this. It's a three-dimensional game of chess being played. But ultimately, I want the politics to be separated from the facts.

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