Charleston City Council works on new districts
Charleston added about 23,000 residents in the last decade -- more than any other South Carolina city -- and it's reverberating through the city's politics.
City Council is scrambling to redraw its 12 council districts to make them a similar size by its Nov. 8 elections.
And the winners and losers are becoming clear.
Ten years ago, City Council was split 6-6 between white and black members. It currently has seven white members and five black members.
The city's current redistricting plan would create nine districts where most of the electorate is white, with Districts 5 and 6 -- represented by Councilmen Jimmy Gallant and Dudley Gregorie, respectively -- seeing the most change.
Both districts are predominantly black, predominantly peninsula districts that would change to predominantly white West Ashley districts -- reflecting the city's suburban growth.
The political passions stirred by redistricts were evident at the most recent City Council meeting. Westside Neighborhood Association President Arthur Lawrence complained that District 6 would no longer be the traditional Westside district. "I felt like I was raped by this plan," he said.
The concerns weren't limited to the city's black leaders. Jerry Johnson of the Moreland Neighborhood Association and Ross Kressel, president of the College of Charleston student body, also expressed concern about how new districts were drawn in their communities.
Riley said those points were "understandable and valid observations," but the job of redrawing the districts -- to abide by the one-man, one-vote principle and the U.S. Justice Department's guidelines for protecting the minority vote -- is "unbelievably complex."
City Council narrowly gave initial approval to the plan, and the city will hold several public meetings to get further comments on it.
Gregorie, who also is running for mayor, said he still believes the city can find a way to create four majority black districts instead of three.
Others disagreed, noting that the state's initial plan contained only two black majority districts and that increased integration in neighborhoods makes it harder to draw black majority districts. Councilman Mike Seekings noted, "The numbers are what the numbers are."
City Council could hold another public hearing --and a final vote --at its May 24 meeting. Gallant, who voted against the plan last week, said the city doesn't need to rush it through.
"Sometimes timelines are not good," he said. "Historically, we're in a very delicate place in this city."
The pending plan
If Charleston City Council gives final approval to the current redistricting plan, here's what would change.
Council incumbents James Lewis and Jimmy Gallant would find themselves in the same district (District 3, now represented by Lewis) when they seek re-election this fall.
District 6 would become more of a West Ashley district and no longer would have a black majority. Incumbent Dudley Gregorie could face a difficult re-election bid in 2013 if he doesn't win this fall's mayoral race.
Western West Ashley and Johns Island voters would elect a new city councilman from a newly created District 5 (currently a peninsula district represented by Gallant).
All other incumbents would see their districts change, at least to some degree, because each will contain about 10,000 residents — 2,000 more than when the current districts were drawn a decade ago.
The city of Charleston will hold a series of redistricting meetings this week.
The plan still can change before going before Charleston City Council for a final vote later this month.
Mayor Joe Riley hopes the plan can be approved by the city and U.S. Justice Department by August, when filing begins for odd-numbered City Council seats. The city's election is Nov. 8
The times and locations of the public meetings on redistricting include:
6 p.m.: Burke High School (cafeteria) on Fishburne Street
Tuesday 6 p.m.: Keith School on Clements Ferry Road in Cainhoy
Tuesday 8 p.m.: 75 Calhoun St. (third floor)
Wednesday, 6 p.m.: St. Andrews Middle School (auditorium) on Wappoo Road
Thursday, 7 p.m.: James Island Recreation Center on Quail Drive on James Island
For more information on the redistricting plans, call 958-6473 or go to www.charleston-sc.gov/redistricting.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.