Redistricting the right way

Published 12:48 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Suffolk’s City Council could teach the state of Virginia a little about redistricting.

The city’s once-a-decade redrawing of borough boundaries to reflect population shifts revealed by the U.S. Census ended last month with unanimous agreement on a new map. Significantly, the final product addressed, with little fuss, concerns by Black leaders about the fairness of early drafts.

We couldn’t help but contrast the conciliatory, efficient approach of city officials with the partisan toxicity that put state legislative and congressional redistricting in the hands of the Virginia Supreme Court.

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Voters had amended the state constitution to take redistricting responsibilities away from lawmakers and turn the task over to a “bipartisan” citizen commission. Unfortunately, legislators on both sides of the political aisle appointed people to the commission to do their partisan bidding instead of the independent map drawing that voters intended. When the commission reached a hopeless impasse, the state Supreme Court took over and did an admirable job with General Assembly and congressional boundaries.

City of Suffolk redistricting was not so congenial a decade ago, when the then-council ignored objections from African American leaders and approved a plan that met U.S. Department of Justice muster.

Current Councilman Lue Ward was president of the local NAACP chapter at the time. Now an elected official, Ward was insistent in the new round of redistricting that Black neighborhoods be kept whole instead of split into two or even three different voting boroughs.

Ward’s alternative to early versions presented by a consultant contained three majority-minority districts, three majority-white districts and one that is a toss-up. It came to be known as Proposal C and won unanimous approval last month after some tense moments in earlier discussions.

“I ain’t mad with nobody no more,” Ward told the News-Herald’s Jimmy LaRoue, “because I feel good I did something for a community that deserves much more than what they have, but now they’re together.”

Ward’s advocacy was not lost on Councilman Tim Johnson.

“Lue, you were right to be insistent,” Johnson said at the meeting where the final map was approved. “I think the map that came back, map C, pulls everything into vision. The districts are set really well. Communities are together. I’m impressed. It serves me well in Holy Neck and I think, Whaleyville, and I think we all are where we belong on the map.”