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.