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The effort to split Riverside and Avondale failed. But Republicans’ redistricting advantage lives.
By Andrew Pantazi
An effort to split the historic Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods, which sparked frustration from residents who said the neighborhoods should be kept together, died Tuesday before it had even fully started.
City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor first offered a proposal last week to draw a Jacksonville City Council District 14 that jettisoned Riverside while keeping Avondale, Ortega and parts of Murray Hill.
City Planning Director Bill Killingsworth was out of the office when DeFoor, a Republican, suggested the changes last week, so the proposal wasn’t formalized in new maps.
Her proposal came as some City Council members worried they were being asked to add some Republicans to their overwhelmingly Democratic districts, so DeFoor, who represents one of the more evenly split districts in the city, offered to give some of her most Democratic precincts in Riverside away.
DeFoor said that Killingsworth was able to find other ways to help the Democratic council members who were concerned about adding Republicans to their extremely Democratic districts, each of which Joe Biden won by 40 to 50 percentage points.
“They were able to help the other councilmen achieve their goals, so thankfully, I’m able to stay where my district lies,” DeFoor said Tuesday. “I love my district. I love the fact it’s eclectic. I love that about it.”
Democrats’ concerns about adding Republicans to their ultra-Democratic districts has driven the Republican advantages on City Council. In a purple county where Republicans and Democrats often evenly split the vote, Republicans hold a two-thirds majority of council seats.
Reggie Gaffney, who represents a district that gave Biden 74 percent of the vote, has expressed frustrations that he is expected to add Republican voters to his seat. He said that even though those changes would still have ensured Biden won with more than two-thirds of the vote, he worried that it would make it harder for Democrats like him to win
As City Council demonstrated Tuesday night when it doled out $4.6 million in federal aid to hand-picked nonprofits (and at least one for-profit), council members have enormous discretion to direct funding to organizations working in their neighborhoods.
By drawing districts that are so overwhelmingly Black — the four Black-majority districts range from 61 percent Black to 71 percent Black — the City Council lessens the impact of Black residents in other districts. No City Council member has expressed an interest in drawing a map with more Black-majority or Black-plurality seats. Instead, some council members want to ensure the current Black-majority seats don’t lose Black residents.
DeFoor introduced her proposal by saying that the voters in Riverside probably have more in common with voters in the adjacent Brooklyn neighborhood, which is not in District 14. Under that proposal, District 14 would have gone from a Republican-leaning district to a more solidly Republican district.
Already, District 14 has been to the right of the county in every local, state and federal election from 2012 through 2020. On average, it was about four points to the right of the county, but these changes would move it eight points to the right of the county.
DeFoor herself won her seat in 2019 in a competitive race with a slim two-point margin of victory over Democrat Sunny Gettinger. DeFoor said she has not yet decided if she will run for re-election to her district seat.
She said the outcry from Riverside and Avondale residents affected her decision to end the discussions about the proposal before it went even further.
“I listened,” she said. “I didn’t feel like we’d gone pretty far down the road.”
She said she didn’t believe she was changing the partisan makeup of the district because she was also adding in Argyle precincts that sometimes vote Democratic.
In actuality, the change would’ve moved the district to the right. No Democrat running for governor, senator, president or any of the county-wide constitutional offices would’ve won the district in the last decade.
“At the time, I wanted to be a good neighbor. There were other districts that were having to move in a direction that was not beneficial to them, and I didn’t want to be someone who wasn’t open to a conversation. That’s all it was: a conversation.”
DeFoor, who said she would prefer if the elections were nonpartisan, said she believes the city would be better off if there were more competitive districts like hers.
“It makes you work hard to win and it makes you work hard to know your people. I think there’s something to be said about that.”
Any effort to make districts more competitive is unlikely to happen due to the Democrats on City Council who are concerned about any efforts to spread Democratic voters to other districts.
For a decade, District 14 has voted to the right of Jacksonville
In 2012, the district was 10 points to the right of the county in the U.S. Senate election and 16 points to the right in the presidential election.
In 2014, it was eight points to the right of the county when Rick Scott won re-election as governor.
In 2015, it was 12 points to the right of the county in the mayors race and 18 points to the right of the county in the sheriff’s race, both of which were won by Republicans with slim margins.
In 2016, it was five points to the right of the county in the presidential and senate races.
In 2018, it was four points to the right of the county in the governors race and three points to the right of the county in the senate race.
In 2020, it was just two-tenths of a point to the right of the county in the presidential race.
Only twice has a Democrat earned more District 14 votes than a Republican — Gillum when he won countywide by four-and-a-half points and Biden when he won countywide by four points.
Disclosure: Sunny Gettinger’s husband, Trey Csar, is a financial supporter of The Tributary, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in editorial decisions at the Tributary. Find a complete list of them here. Find our editorial policies here.
On The Calendar
No more Jacksonville City Council Special Committee on Redistricting meetings are currently scheduled, but Planning Director Bill Killingsworth said last month he would schedule a meeting with council members. That hasn’t yet occurred. The committee has said it will hold another meeting near the end of October.
The Florida Senate and House redistricting committees met Monday and Tuesday. Videos of those meetings are available online at The Florida Channel.
The Florida House redistricting subcommittees — one overseeing the state house’s maps, the other overseeing the congressional maps— are continuing their trend of meeting at the exact same time. Both meet today at 1 p.m. in Tallahassee, and their meetings will live-stream on The Florida Channel.
The Florida Senate redistricting committee will next meet Monday, Oct. 18, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Submit your maps
We want to see what you think Jacksonville’s 14 City Council districts should look like.
Here’s how you can get started drawing your own maps.
- Go to DavesRedistricting.org.
- Create an account.
- Go to DavesRedistricting.org/maps.
- Select New Map.
- Choose Florida as your state.
- Select “Other” as your plan type.
- Restrict to Duval.
- Select 14 districts.
- Click apply and it will take you to a new screen where you can begin drawing districts.
When you’re done, send a link to your map to firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can feature your map in a future newsletter.
Our most recent map comes from Nick Seabrook, UNF’s interim chair of its political science department.
My goals for the map were:
Partisan balance/competitiveness – I wanted a map where both Democrats and Republicans would have a decent shot at winning a majority, depending on how the people voted in the competitive districts, and the at-large results, rather than the majority being pre-ordained as it is under the present map. I drew 7 Democratic districts and 7 Republican districts, with 9 of those being somewhat competitive (PVI of +/- 10), and 3 highly competitive (PVI of +/- 3).
Minority representation – I drew the map with the goal of maximizing the number of majority-minority districts, to ensure representation of Jacksonville’s minority communities. I drew 3 majority-Black districts, and 5 minority coalition districts, along with 6 majority-white districts.
Equal population – I tried to minimize the population deviations between districts. The largest district has 71,118 people, and the smallest has 71,107 people, representing an 11-person min-max population deviation.