After two arduous meetings on redistricting, the Fort Worth City Council chose to move forward with one map. The map, which the council will consider the high-priority map, was highly favored in public comment Feb 28.
The map was originally drawn by District 8 council member Chris Nettles ahead of the Feb 15 map drawing session. Since then, it has been heavily amended to include what the council members describe as a horseshoe. District 4 council member Cary Moon’s map, which creates two new districts in the far north, will be considered low priority.
“We’re not eliminating anything, but it seems like the broader consensus is around this map,” said Mayor Mattie Parker. “We are prioritizing this version here.”
Absent from the March 1 meeting was Moon, who has been the most vocal advocate for two new districts in far north Fort Worth. Moon is on the ballot in the Republican primary for House District 93.
What is a horseshoe?
The horseshoe is an addition to the map that connects heavily Hispanic neighborhoods like Worth Heights and other neighborhoods along the Hemphill Corridor. A narrow line following Interstate 35 and railroad tracks connect the neighborhoods to other portions of the Riverside community
The new district will contain a Hispanic voting age population of 58%. The new Hispanic district will be stronger in this map than any of the maps previously proposed by council members and the map advanced by the redistricting task force. However, the horseshoe map will knock down the Hispanic voting-age population in District 2 by 6 percentage points compared to the task force map.
The map maintains two of the most notable communities of interest, the Como community and the Riverside Alliance. Rick Herring, moderator of the Riverside Alliance who has been present at every redistricting meeting, said this decision from the council isn’t necessarily a mark of progress.
“They still haven’t really made a final decision,” Herring said.
At the Feb. 28 public hearing, nearly half of the 57 commenters spoke in support of Nettles’ map with a horseshoe amendment in spite of the fact that this map wasn’t put up for consideration by the council and no versions of Nettles’ map with a horseshoe amendment were made public prior to the meeting.
“The council seemed to express a greater level of comfort, even though it certainly wasn’t unanimous,” Fernando Costa, assistant city manager, said. “And we fully expect there to be further changes to the maps that they discussed today.”
Notably, the activist Opal Lee supported the map in the form of a letter read to council members. Opal Lee wasn’t there in person because she is visiting the White House, where she previously visited when President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a national holiday last year.
“Please, don’t make me get down on my arthritic knees and beg for a fair map,” Lee wrote.
The council discussed potential legal challenges to the horseshoe map, including issues of compactness. Bickerstaff lawyer Philip Arnold, who has been hired to analyze the maps, said the map not being compact isn’t necessarily unconstitutional, but it could raise eyebrows. The weirder a map is drawn, the higher the chances of a challenge, he said.
“What you really wanna do is make sure that all of your districts touch each other, and that none jump over another district … but also that you don’t zigzag around too much,” Arnold said.
If the compactness of a district is challenged, he said, the city might provide reasons why the horseshoe was necessary. The key is that the reasons must be race-neutral.
“It depends on the body of evidence the city develops along the way of why you made this particular choice,” Arnold said. “There may be a reason to do it.”
Arnold said the Hispanic population tends to be more spread out in a community compared to the Black population and called the trend a legacy of historic segregation. Because of that, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the council decides to draw a Hispanic district in the north or the south.
“The one thing we’ve been really diligent about as this council is that we’re not discriminating on the basis of race,” said District 6 council member Jared Williams. “That’s why I think it was important that we had as many discussions as we did around Latino opportunity districts.”
The council will hear public comments at 6 p.m. March 22. District 5 council member Gyna Bivens requested staff make online flyers in English, Spanish and Vietnamese so that council members can inform their constituents about the public comment period.
The next drawing session will be scheduled in the weeks following the public comment meeting, which could move back to the self-imposed March 29 deadline, Costa said. The actual deadline to wrap up redistricting will be six months before the January 2023 filing deadline for candidates. Candidates will have to establish residency in their council district of choice by July 2022.
“June of 2022 is the latest we want to finish,” Costa said.
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