Tennell Atkins, Dwaine Caraway Demand Four African-American Seats Stay On City Council
|Photo by Anna Merlan|
|Caraway and Atkins at this morning's press conference|
"I am disappointed the plan did not put forward four African-American seats," Ragsdale said. "Now we're having to deal with this at a council level."
Just some light background, for those of you who haven't been hanging on this process like it's a particularly exciting episode of American Gladiator: cPlan16d, the final map submitted to the city council by the commission, ultimately ended up with five Hispanic districts, three African-American ones and one so-called "coalition" district, where the demographic makeup is such that either population could potentially vote in their preferred candidate. The city's demographic makeup, according to this latest census, is 42 percent Hispanic, 25 percent African-American and 29 percent Anglo.
The plan was forwarded on to the city council, where the council members were free to make amendments to the map, or draw up a whole new one, if they saw fit. Yesterday, we got a look at the 10 proposed amended maps various council members put forward, nine of which were based on Plan 16. (Mayor Rawlings also submitted a map based on Bill Betzen's popular but ultimately inventoried Plan 3. Betzen was probably the only non-journalist or political type at the press conference just now. He could be seen circulating the room and explaining the redistricting process to semi-befuddled TV reporters. As always, he looked absolutely delighted to be there, which cannot be said of anyone else.)
Of the nine city council maps that draw from plan 16, seven keep the same ethnic breakdown as 16 does, including one of the four proposals submitted by council members Caraway, Carolyn Davis and Atkins. (Davis was unable to attend the press conference this morning, Atkins said, because she's currently at a meeting in D.C.) The only other African-American city council member, Vonciel Hill, submitted a modified map that creates three Hispanic, three African-American and two coalition districts. She has not been working with the group, to put it mildly -- recall, if you will, about a month ago, when Caraway told us (because we called and asked him about it) that Hill and her appointed redistricting commissioner, Hollis Brashear, were "bandits" and "renegades" who purposely drew a map, he said, to bring Hill into Caraway's district.
"African-Americans should be rightfully upset," he said. "Because an African-American cost us a seat with that move. ... That's a slap, a true slap."
Another plan submitted by Caraway, Davis and Atkins creates four Hispanic, three African-American and three coalition districts. But only one creates the makeup they're arguing for: four Hispanic, four African-American and one coalition district. The argument during the redistricting process by most of the commission was that this would be really difficult to do, but they have, mainly changing the boundaries of District 5 to make it trend African-American rather than Hispanic. (Interestingly, the move also made District 8, which was 61 percent African-American, a little less strong -- in their new proposal, it's become 54 percent instead.)
Nonetheless, Atkins said this morning, "We feel like we should have four African-American potential seats. We're here to make sure people come on Saturday," to advocate for that, he said.
"We've got four today, we want to have four tomorrow and to have four in the future," he added.
By way of background, Caraway also reminded the crowd that the 1991 redistricting process ultimately found its way into court due to activism by Marvin Crenshaw, Roy Williams and Al Lipscomb (whose daughter, Betty, was also standing with the council members this morning). The famous 14-1 decision created five seats, which, Caraway said, "dwindled" to four after the next census. "The threat we're confronted with today is yet more retrogression."
The group also said that their efforts to hang onto a fourth seat shouldn't be construed as hostility against city's Hispanic community. "We will not give up our hard-won and just battles for African-American representation," Ragsdale said. What was won in the 14-1 decision, she said, "was also fair and just representation for Latinos and Anglos."
"As African-Americans," she concluded, "we've fought for everyone to be at the table. We demand four seats. Forward together, backwards never."