Redistricting throws wrench into Metro's election season

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 9:07pm

In what was bound to result from the expedited redistricting of 35 boundaries in a growing city, Metro council candidates got their first taste Wednesday of a dramatically changed political map that would throw a wrench in the campaign season a mere four months before election.

“I want to represent Madison,” said Nancy Van Reece, who qualified to run for District 4 weeks ago and has been campaigning for just as long. Under the new lines, she’s lost some neighborhoods and gained others. “Right now, they’ve got me in Goodlettsville.”

The redrawn council lines are the Metro Planning Department’s attempt to use fresh 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data to follow the constitutional principle of “one man, one vote.” The department is hoping to fast-track the process before candidates’ May 19 qualifying deadline and the Aug. 4 election. Changes are major, but lines are expected to change over the course of two more meetings before the Metro Planning Commission votes on a final map March 31. The council must then give its approval. (See the map here.)

“It’s not going to look like the district you have right now,” planning department director Rick Bernhardt said. “But, we’ve got to make sure that the districts are represented in terms of a ‘one person, one vote’ district, and try to do that with the least amount of pain as possible.

“We’re listening for comments,” Bernhardt told a room full of candidates attending an information gathering meeting. “This plan is not ideal, but there are constraints in terms of that magic number.”

That figure is 17,900. All new council districts must have populations that fall within 5 percent of that total, up from 16,200 a decade ago. Seventeen current districts are all under-populated, mostly north of the Cumberland River. Meanwhile, the greatest concentration of growth has occurred in southeast Davidson County, meaning its newly drawn districts have gotten smaller.

A few highlights include the following: a new downtown district inside the Interstate 440 loop stretching to Hillsboro Village and breaking up District 6; a realigned Bellevue that consists of “downtown” Bellevue district with a “suburban” Bellevue district wrapping around it; and drastically different council district numbers (based on geography), which are still subject to change. 

There’s already some noticeable quirks, which the department has heard and could change. The Nations neighborhood in West Nashville is split into different districts. There’s also a fissure in the heart of Hillsboro Village, with Vanderbilt and Belmont universities in separate districts. Inglewood in East Nashville doesn’t have its own district. And, neighbors who live near the 117-acre state fairgrounds on the city’s south side — vocal during the ongoing fairgrounds debate — are in a different district than the fairgrounds itself.

But the real point of contention comes with council candidates — both outsiders and incumbents — who are now zoned in “new districts,” like Van Reece, who has requested changes to include her address in more of the Madison area.

Dave Rich had been running for East Nashville’s District 7 held by Erik Cole, but he’s now zoned for District 6.

“I had a website I had reserved,” Rich said. “I’ve been doing a lot. I had staff I was putting together. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work to try to run. If I’m lumped in [District 6], there’s a lot of candidates in there, and it’s an established field.

Under the proposed plan, Rich said he would have to ask for votes from people who reside in an area where he’s never lived and doesn’t really know. “There’s no way that I could effectively mount a reasonable campaign to get the votes,” he said.

Candidate Brady Banks, who’s been hitting the campaign trail hard, would be shifted to a Crieve Hall area district, outside the Brentwood/Antioch doors he’s campaigned. He said he would still run. 

“I’m going to just keeping on working as hard as I can, and take it from there,” Banks said.

Incumbents would also enter new political terrain. Councilwoman Karen Bennett, for example, would move from District 8 to District 7. And Erica Gilmore would be the representative of the newly created downtown district. Gilmore, one of the council’s eight African-American district council members, would move from a district that is 72 percent black to one that is 24 black.

Gilmore said she’s still “processing” the new map.

Currently, there are seven districts that are majority black. The new map, if approved, would have eight that are either majority or plurality African-American. 

The city's nine school board districts are also slated to change. Under the proposed scenario, current members Ed Kindall and Kay Simmons would be in the same district. The next school board election is not until 2012. 


13 Comments on this post:

By: trtay2004 on 3/23/11 at 7:48

I wish the article had a picture of the proposed changes.

By: Shane Smiley on 3/24/11 at 12:42

Link shows existing districts and proposed changes known as Alternative "A"

By: Gower Mills on 3/24/11 at 6:38

The part talking about the split of the Nations is nothing big, the Nations were in 2 Districts before. Now it is in 3 with a very small portion listed in the new District 11. Also the new District 11 rolls into part of old District 23 & 24. I am for the changes as long as the Election Commission, Metro Council and the legal department can work out all the kinks prior to the election in August. I would like to know who I am to ask for their vote in the election as I am one of the many candidates this season. Right now there are 3 of us for District 20. If the new lines are adopted, then it will be 2 for new District 11 as far as I have knowledge of.

Gower Mills

By: Nitzche on 3/24/11 at 7:15

checked PC handbook and I am a little confused on African-American and black in same sentence?

By: nash615 on 3/24/11 at 7:24

The downside to the Nations split, for people on the eastern 3/4s of the Nations is that everyone east of 54th Avenue ends up lumped into what has been Edith Taylor Langster's District that is TSU + West End. That part of the Nations is physically isolated from the rest of that proposed district by train tracks and a strip of industrial zoning near 43rd Avenue (the same area where certain bad actors were recently trying to convert residential land to even more industrial land).

If the proposed line holds the bulk of the people in the Nations will end up in a very different District, with very different concerns, and little likelihood (in my opinion) of getting their voice heard on much of anything that appears in Council.

Anyway, under Alternative A you and Buddy Baker (who many people would love to see go) are competing for a District 11 seat, while Mary Carolyn Roberts would be competing against incumbent Langster for a District 12 seat.

By: jasonweaver on 3/24/11 at 7:35

The old District 20 has gotten really botched. While the Nations may be been in split before, the neighbors there have gotten accustomed to being under one representation. But the part that is getting redistricted is getting put into a historically Black district, quite literally jumping the tracks to do so. Langster's district make up changes to give Blacks there less representation. Gilmore's district should be balanced more. To jump from mostly Black to mostly White is extreme.

In effect, the redistricting has just about ensured that the incumbents remain in the council in certain places and unsettled others. Voters are going to be confused as hell and the council very likely could end up being a mess over the next four years. All that does is play into the hands of Mayor Dean, presuming he is reelected. His administration would be able to advantage of it all and roll over the council, ending the strength the council has displayed over the past year.

The city should have waited until the end of the year as they normally do and take more time to think it all through. The threatened lawsuit has meant a shotgun approach to a process that needs more finesse.

By: frodo on 3/24/11 at 8:38

And then you have Joelton, which has had no representation for years...if attempts to get any response about anything at all from our councilperson is an indicator. Whether it is a race issue or cultural or neighborhood loyalty doesn't matter to me. Give me a councilmember who wants to represent the northern half of the district.

By: Gower Mills on 3/24/11 at 8:59

My Facebook page on the election. Visit and like if you want to learn more about me, just send me a message.

Gower Mills

By: U02Know on 3/24/11 at 11:44

Technically speaking, every district that changes its boundary lines (even by <1 inch) becomes a new and different district but, it may also retain its former district number. So, 'redistricting' could possibly mean that ALL term-limited council members could run again in their newly drawn district, because it is NOT exactly THE SAME district where they were term-limited.

Will someone with expert knowledge and authority please verify, clarify, or explain this?

By: jasonweaver on 3/24/11 at 12:06

U02Know good question. I'll refer back to what I'd said above. More thought and time. Instead we are changing things for the benefit of a few active voters and giving "better" representation to many apathetic voters.

By: govskeptic on 3/25/11 at 6:27

While the law requires redistricting based on the 10 yr census, it doesn't
require that it be drawn up in advance to suit the existing Administration
and to assist their friends and exclude the enemies in the local governing body.! Fairness to the citizens of every district seems to get left out by the Planning
Commission each time they are called upon to perform this duty! The
Official numbers have only been out one week, and already the plans are
being presented for "mild" discussion and approval.

By: curtwallen on 3/25/11 at 6:56

while I appreciate your sentiment I would challenge you on the statement about the administration or the planning commission drawing it up just to suit themselves. The census numbers are available to all. the totals in each district much reach +/- 5% of 17,900 people to be balanced. The majority of population growth is to the South while the majority of the loss is to the North or Central Core. They were given a week and a half. They are very open to ideas. If you have one please give it to them.

By: govskeptic on 3/25/11 at 7:13

Numbers per district are not challenged by me, the plus or minus 5%
can be used politically as well as where the lines are to meet the
numbers requirement can make a tremendous difference in who is
elected or not as well who is truly represented! "Openness to ideas"
will be decided after we see what the final approval turns out to be!