The Jacksonville City Council plans to vote Friday on new district maps after the old ones were struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, yet after three days of committee meetings, it’s not clear that the council has enough votes to approve the maps.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard struck the city’s council and Duval County’s School Board district maps as racial gerrymanders, finding the City Council had segregated voters on the basis of race.
She ordered the council to draw new maps by Nov. 8, and until Thursday, City Council President Terrance Freeman had expressed confidence the council could finish the task by Friday, four days ahead of time. But for the first time Thursday, Freeman questioned what may happen if the council failed to pass new maps.
The new redistricting maps will be taken up as emergency legislation. Thirteen of the city’s 19 council members must vote for the maps to approve them. Three — Rory Diamond, Matt Carlucci and Sam Newby — have said they will miss the meeting, and an absence counts as a no vote.
If the City Council doesn’t approve new maps by next Tuesday’s deadline, then the council could still propose maps to the court by Nov. 18, the deadline set for plaintiffs to submit maps, but Howard wouldn’t need to defer to the city, said city attorney Mary Margaret Giannini. That increases the likelihood Howard could choose maps submitted by the plaintiffs.
What else do I need to know?
The Tributary has been covering local redistricting for more than a year. Here is a sample of our past coverage:
Jacksonville’s redistricting plan risks racial gerrymandering claims, experts say
Jacksonville redistricting plan splits dozens of neighborhoods
Jacksonville’s redistricting plans ignore federal guidelines
For decades, Jacksonville City Council redistricted based off ‘misinformation’
‘They’re not compact. They’re sprawling.’: Federal judge probes Jacksonville City Council redistricting
‘Racial segregation’: Federal judge blocks Jacksonville City Council districts as racial gerrymanders
INTERACTIVE: HOW JACKSONVILLE’S CITY COUNCIL DISTRICTS SORT RESIDENTS BY RACE
INTERACTIVE: HOW JACKSONVILLE’S MAP SPLITS NEIGHBORHOODS
While the special redistricting committee has asked its consultant to advance his “Maroon” map — the least compact and most pro-Republican of the four proposals the committee initially received — with some changes to accommodate council members, it’s not clear if those changes will win enough votes to secure passage.
Of the remaining council members, Brenda Priestly Jackson, Al Ferraro, Ju’Coby Pittman, Reggie Gaffney, Randy DeFoor, Tyrona Clark-Murray and LeAnna Cumber have all criticized the maps or the process.
Because of the three expected absences, Freeman can only afford to have three more vote against the maps or miss the meeting. If Freeman loses four votes on top of the three expected absences, the map would fail.
It is possible Newby or Diamond could still show up. Carlucci has said he is out of town on a long-planned trip.
After Howard’s order, Freeman created a special redistricting committee that consisted of six Republicans and one Democrat, and along the way, the process has upset many.
It took three weeks after the order came down before the committee had a working meeting to go through map proposals. That was Tuesday.
At first, Freeman scheduled just five and a half hours of working time for the committee. He extended that time on Thursday, and he scheduled a “map chat” to hear from citizens Thursday night.
Ferraro opposes how the proposed map moves San Mateo from District 2 into District 7. Howard’s order had honed in on an earlier suggestion that San Mateo move to District 7, but Gaffney and Ferraro expressed concerns the neighborhood — which is mostly white and Republican — wasn’t a good fit for Gaffney’s majority Black district.
Gaffney said it was disrespectful to put him in a district that also had Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman. Gaffney, who was term-limited anyway, filed resignation paperwork earlier this year for his unsuccessful run for state senate, and he will leave office as soon as a winner is certified in a special election next week for his district. Yet his son, who lives with him, is one of the candidates running to replace him, and it appeared clear Gaffney was trying to clear a path for his son to have his own district.
Pittman doesn’t like that her district has changed from the one that was struck down.
Cumber doesn’t like that the City Council is trying to pass a new map while appealing the order and that the city staff said it couldn’t do a voting-rights analysis.
DeFoor doesn’t like that the proposed maps tried to split Riverside, Avondale, Murray Hill and Ortega, and so far the committee has agreed to reunite only the first three neighborhoods, but not Ortega.
Clark-Murray doesn’t like that District 9 is not compact, scooping her into a district mostly south of I-10 and splitting neighborhoods like her own Woodstock along the way.
Priestly Jackson hasn’t attended any meetings, but she has expressed concerns about the city’s approach to the lawsuit and the new redistricting committee.
Other council members, like Joyce Morgan and Kevin Carrico, have remained silent throughout the process.
City experts continued to insist they didn’t have a neighborhood map to ensure communities weren’t split, which didn’t help persuade council members to support the map that the city continued to claim there was no such thing as a neighborhoods map in the city’s possession, and commonly understood neighborhood lines, like Woodstock, Springfield, Argyle, Riverside, Avondale and Murray Hill have been split in various proposals.
The council has instructed the redistricting expert, Douglas Johnson, to look at remedying some of those problems, including putting Riverside, Avondale and Murray Hill together into District 10 and away from District 14 and considering what it would mean to put San Mateo back into District 2.
Part of the challenge for the committee is that fulfilling some of the requests — like putting San Mateo into District 2 or giving Pittman a district that more closely resembles the one struck down as unconstitutional — could increase the likelihood Howard rejects the city’s map again.
The city has repeatedly said it has not and will not perform a voting analysis to ensure it complies with the Voting Rights Act, and it has said race was not a factor in any of the mapdrawer’s decisions. But Johnson, the mapdrawer, contradicted that on Thursday.
He admitted he adjusted the demographics of at least one district in one of his proposals to try to protect it from a Voting Rights Act challenge.
The city has rejected offers to use expert reports submitted by the plaintiffs or use the data or code provided by those plaintiffs, despite Howard telling the city it could do so.
While plaintiffs submitted a two-page analysis of how their proposal complied with the federal law, Johnson did not explain why he believed his districts would survive a Voting Rights Act challenge or why he believed the Voting Rights Act applied to those districts and required him to use race as a factor.
Another challenge for Freeman is who he chose for the redistricting committee. He included only two council members from the seven districts that were struck down — Republican Randy White and Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman.
The decision to exclude the other members from the gerrymandered districts clearly rankled DeFoor, Gaffney, Ferraro and Priestly Jackson.
After Thursday’s committee meeting, Freeman stopped The Tributary from joining a press gaggle, insisting he wanted to handle media interviews one-on-one. Freeman’s aide told The Tributary he would call later, though he never did.
The City Council will meet at 9 a.m. Friday, and Freeman said he planned to bring lunch, dinner and a sleeping bag if necessary so that the council could pass new maps before the Tuesday deadline.
While Freeman may be willing to work all weekend at City Hall, any of his colleagues who don’t show up or who leave before a vote will be counted as no votes, under the council’s rules for emergency legislation.