Housing Complex

The Committee of 100’s P.R. Problem

Really just a fun game!

Last week, right after D.C.'s Census results came out, Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert—like the Google veteran he is—threw together an application that lets you easily play with council ward boundaries until each one is balanced. Later, he'll aggregate all the maps created and recommendations offered into a report for the D.C. Council, so they can benefit from the thoughts and preferences of as broad a swath of people as the redistricting game can reach. To try to make sure that it isn't just GGW's typical readership, he sent it out to all of D.C.'s local journalists, encouraged people to share it through social media, and emailed it to several email lists.

But Alma Gates, chair of the Committee of 100's zoning subcommittee, thinks this is a woefully unserious way to treat the redrawing of D.C.'s political boundaries. In a post titled "Redistricting is Not a Game," she wrote:

David Alpert, a well known blogger, has reduced the redistricting process to a "game," It is not. Redrawing ward boundaries is serious business and not one that should be left to the whims of a blogger. David's invitation should not be taken seriously by residents of the city and time should not be spent considering them by Members of Council. If you are interested in being involved in the redistricting process, please contact Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh and ask that she appoint you to the Redistricting Task Force from Ward 3 that will be working to bring representative balance to the city.

You may recall that during the last redistricting, Foxhall Village was moved from Ward 2 to Ward 3; and, a part of Chevy Chase DC was moved from Ward 3 to Ward 4. ANC boundaries will also be adjusted across the city. Who knows how boundaries will change with this redistricting, but the changes are not a game and have profound affect on the residents of the city.

This is an excellent opportunity to become involved in the reshaping of the city. It is also a very serious undertaking. Mary Cheh can be reached by email at MCheh@DCCOUNCIL.US.

Alma Gates

This is a pretty textbook example of the tone-deafness that prevents the Committee of 100 from attracting a larger, younger, and more diverse audience (sure, Gates may have been writing as an individual, but she is often the organization's public face). Gates suggests that the only legitimate and serious way to become involved in a process that will affect representation in the city (here's a memo about how it'll work this year) is to be appointed to a task force and go to meetings. Certainly, that's an admirable form of civic involvement. But if you don't have the time or inclination, does that mean you shouldn't have a voice? Alpert has created a simple and easy-to-understand way for people to express their preferences, and proposes to synthesize that input into a form that councilmembers themselves can digest. It doesn't mean the internet rabble gets to vote on the final outcome, it just means that the decisionmakers can get more feedback.

Do members of the Committee of 100 recognize that it has an image problem? That when they spout off against fairly innocent and innovative forms of expanding the pool of involvement in politics beyond a klatch of people who have historically controlled the process, they make themselves look like they're simply trying to preserve their own power? If not, consider this a reality check. Hating fun is not a good public relations strategy.

  • Bob See

    "Redrawing ward boundaries is serious business and not one that should be left to the whims of a blogger."

    So, she fabricated an nefarious intent and just built everything up from that. Fox News would be proud.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    I feel very sorry for Ms. Gates. It must be horrible to go through life with a heart two sizes too small, without the ability to feel joy.

  • Commissioner Jack Jacobson

    People like Alma are the very reason I ran for ANC back in 2008 (I'm currently serving in my 3rd term as a commissioner).

    I encourage all young, civic minded individuals to stand up and have a voice in your government. Unfortunately there will always be an "Old Guard" that will try to protect their own power and the outdated status quo. However, smart, energetic activists can chart a new course to power and influence in our government. Do NOT allow people like this to bully you into submission. Take a stand and we will win -- we're the silent majority in this City, and the old guard is threatened by us... and likely so. Their power is waning, and actions like this only quicken their demise.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mvjantzen/ Michael

    Wow; "serious undertaking" indeed. I bet committee meetings with Alma are a lot of fun. (Not.) Wasn't this "no fun" edict the plot of "Footloose"?

  • Will Singer

    Wait just a minute. What exactly are the "profound affects [sic]" of redistricting on the city? Ten years ago, half of Chevy Chase (including the part where I grew up) went from Ward 3 to Ward 4. A local ANC commissioner, going door-to-door to organize opposition, personally told me that the change would reduce property values in our neighborhood (apparently because we would share a political unit with black people). At an ANC meeting, another commissioner drew a "Mendelson line" through half the commission's official banner, to symbolize the community being split in half. (Mendelson had the brutally thankless task of chairing the council subcommittee on redistricting.) All of these dire predictions proved false. More shrewd members of that same ANC have since recognized that Chevy Chase has, if anything, twice as much clout on the city council today: not one but two councilmembers monitor and respond to the neighborhood listserv and other sources of community expression.

    From the outset, everyone should recognize that this redistricting debate is totally lacking in substance. I say that knowing firsthand that an effective councilmember can secure services for his constituents and improvements to her ward. But this is always true, no matter where a person lives or where the boundaries fall. If you don't like your elected representative, it is your responsibility to go recruit someone else who can win and do a better job. But the point is that you cannot draw a line connecting the dots of ward boundaries and quality of life.

    The debate still will be very contentious, because councilmembers will perceive themselves as threatened by certain changes--for instance, a member won't want to lose a precinct that overwhelmingly supported her election. So the councilmembers will fight like hell (and mostly in private) to shift redistricting's burdens onto other colleagues. While individual ward members will want to appear responsive to their constituents' griping, the council as a body really doesn't care, because there is no escaping the fundamental need to redraw arbitrary lines to conform to the Home Rule Act's required balance.

    I promise you, Alma Gates, that redistricting is a game, and that is all it is. You might think you are playing, in which case you are wrong.

  • Down with C100

    Just wait until the next redistricting. Nearly all the current Committee of 100 people will be dead. And nobody will miss them.

  • DC Guy

    Alma Gates is demonstrating the exact "age divide" that exists in the District of Columbia. Yes, if one has the time to know and lobby to be appointed to a task force, and then submit to countless meetings, then yes, let's conduct business as if it were 1955.

    Or, technology can be utilized to engage more into the process than ever before. Everyone will understand that David Alpert's compilation will only be a small segment of the city population. On the other hand, it is a segment whose voice has been long absent from the process.

  • Steve

    I actually think that the map really is a tool for a lot of the Committee of 100 to really get a chance to see some other parts of the City. They obviously won't likely journey to the edges of Wards 7 and 8 at the interfaces with their neighbors.

    Even it one wanted to redo the dividing lines more dramatically, I thought the Alpert's "application" was very useful in understanding the options and consider the implications.

  • DCJohn

    I would like to know how many members of this truly nefarious Committee of 100 have even stepped foot in Wards other than 2 and 3! Or are they busy wishing that Ward 3 can be ceded back to Montgomery County?

  • Steve

    Delores Umbridge.

  • T


    C100 is far more diverse than just a few people in Wards 2 and 3...

    You can't forget Ward 6 around Eastern Market and Stanton Park! Plenty of diversity in that group!

  • Carol

    I really don't know why people use the lazy age-divide meme. It is an attitude divide. To indict a whole group of people because of their age is bigotry pure and simple and a good way to lose many allies.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/collections/ Bossi

    Gaming is mathematics; not just entertainment.

  • urbanette

    +1 Steve (+20 actually)

  • DC Guy

    What is the average age and demographic of the C100?

    What is the average age and demographic of people who are engaged in the city via more modern means?

  • cminus

    Wow, I hope the Committee of 100 never learns about the Redistricting Game (http://www.redistrictinggame.org/), a painfully sincere website that uses simulated redistricting challenges to illustrate the problem of gerrymandering and to pitch taking redistricting out of the hands of state legislatures and giving it over to state-level bipartisan commissions.

    Because, obviously, using the word "game" means that they have no seriousness whatsoever, no matter how many law professors they get to argue their cause.

  • deeceefooodeee

    Down with the Committee of 100.

  • http://www.metcaffeination.net thm

    Except that the C100 does not want to attract a "larger, younger, and more diverse audience." They're invitation-only.

    They're particularly threatened by Mr. Alpert, because it used to be that underemployed civic activists--retired, or done with raising kids--skewed uniformly older. It's a model that worked well in the 1980s and earlier decades (from which most of their ideas seem to come, also). Alpert has enough resources to spend full time on the same issues, and the combination of the modern internet and his computer skills let him reach and activate lots of us with day jobs far more effectively than, say, a monthly mimeographed newsletter would.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman


    It might seem like a gee-whiz app, but it makes the process easy for people to participate in. Frankly, by changing just about 5 block groups, one from W8 to W7, one or two from W6 to W7 (I don't remember how many) and 3-4 from W2 to W6, all the wards end up being in balance--which I figured out by using David's application.

    I wasn't gonna mention this in my blog, but because of the C100 response, I will do so.

  • U Street resident

    By the way, you don't have to be young to be disgusted by the Committee of 100. They should be ashamed of themselves. Or they should start shedding people like the one who made these statements that were so dismissive of activists who are broadening participation through hard work and creativity.

    Bravo to David Alpert and shame on Alma Gates.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    I propose we nominate David Alpert for the C100's Vision Award:

  • Anon

    Redistricting can have major impacts on a community when census tracks are used to redraw neighborhoods and other boundaries as was done on U Street after the SW corner of 14th & U was moved from Ward 1 to Ward 2 - Dupont in the last redistricting.

    As a result we now have the southside of U Street right across from the 3D police headquarters, reporting to Georgetown and an entire blog "Borderstan" and associated neighborhood identity were created to overcome the artificial boundaries that were made to conform to the census tracks.

    That said, I really want to thank David for putting this tool for examining the options out into the public, so they can see what goes on at the committee level sooner than later. We did not have enough time in 2000 to let the public know about the impacts of the Ward change last time, so Ward 1 lost part of U Street, and kept part of Woodley Park west of Rock Creek Park, which immediately opted out of Ward 1, to be represented by a Ward 3 ANC.

    As a member of a Ward taskforce in 2000. We cut out pieces of paper and had to do calculations on the fly to balance the SMD's. This tool will be extremely useful for both the Ward and Citywide taskforces to be able to use to visualize the impacts of these decisions.

  • LongTimeRez

    FYI, the only one referencing Alma Gates' involvement with the C-100 was you. She did not claim to be speaking--nor was she authorized to speak--for the organization in her comment as a private citizen on the Palisades listserv.

    If you had spent a bit of time reading the responses to Gates' post--rather than "gerrymandering" her words to suit your own purposes--you would have seen that everyone disagreed with her about David Alpert's tool and its usefulness.

    Regarding the redistricting tool, IMHO it would be much more useful at a census block level. As I posted on a Georgetown Dish article about "G'town's Population Boom," most of the population increase is GU students, which were undercounted (and considerably fewer in number) in 2000. (http://www.georgetowndish.com/thedish/georgetown%E2%80%99s-population-didn%E2%80%99t-boom-much-afterall#comments) To an even greater degree, a similar situation has occurred with GWU.

    For five months in 2010, I was a Crew Leader supervising a total of 30 Enumerators and we covered parts of Census tracts all over the city, including Georgetown, American University Park, Southwest, and Capitol Hill.

    We discovered many of the new condos in Lower G'town are second (or third) homes, and while DC gets the property tax benefits, it doesn't get to count folks residing there as part of the DC population--forgoing federal matching payments and income tax revenue from them.

    Prior to our May 1st start (Non-Response Follow Up--NRFU--or nar-foo), there was a huge push to enumerate all of the college students living in DC on April 1st, 2010, to assure that DC would receive the benefit of Federal matching payments for each warm body. Although federal payments are simply transfers of federal tax dollars to DC coffers, this shell game provides a fig leaf of justification for the massive subsidies these non-profit educational behemoths receive from DC in forgone property taxes.

    This is why a "block map game" of the statistics is crucial.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    longtimerez: as a temporary census employee, you're aware that the number of census blocks in the city is exponentially higher than the number of tracts, correct? that would have made the creation of an application at that level exponentially more difficult.

    the law says that the wards are to follow census tracts as much as possible. with that in mind, we figured tracts would make more sense to use, not just for simplicity, but because it made sense to attempt to adhere to the law.

    whether gates was speaking for the cmte of 100 or not is somewhat irrelevant. as a public figure, you have to think that what you say has the potential to reflect on groups you represent, whether on or off the clock. especially when you're commenting on a topic that is in the wheelhouse of said organization.

    additionally, she chose to be somewhat nasty towards "bloggers," and david alpert in particular. it was unnecessary and personal the way she handled it. if she feels bad about the negative attention she's received in return, perhaps she's learned a valuable lesson.

  • LongTimeRez

    @imgoph: While I think that the "redistricting tool" is a fun and interesting concept and has served its purpose since people are debating what ten years ago ranked right up there with discussions about lead pipe impacts on water quality, there is need for a more granular level of analysis.

    IMHO, there is no need to redistrict, particularly in Ward 2, because the population boom is largely an artifact of the 70,000+ private university undergraduate students--90-95% of whom don't participate in DC civic life--moving in and out of DC twice a year. My voting precinct, for example, is home to 3500+ college students and had the lowest voter turnout in the city for the last two elections.

    If Alma Gates were an elected or public official, or a journalist, I would agree that her comments should be more circumspect, but she's not.

    Much more troubling to me is Ms. DePillis' choice--one she has made several times in the recent past--of taking a lazy, inflammatory potshot at the C-100 rather than digging in and researching the important issues,

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    longtimerez: 90-95% of non-university students don't participate in DC civic life either, so i think stating that students don't, so they should be ignored, is kind of a red herring.

    the census counts residents, their tenure does not matter. the fact is that more than 1/8 of the city's residents live in what is currently ward 2, so its boundaries will have to shrink. there's no debating that or trying to spin the numbers.

  • LongTimeRez

    @imgoph: I did not conclude, or state, "that students... should be ignored..." or that "numbers be spun" to avoid necessary redistricting. What I am suggesting is that there needs to be something more than a facile once-over of the results and some thoughtful analysis before boundaries are shifted for the next ten years.

    If this weren't an important issue, then-DC Mayor Tony Williams wouldn't have had to sue the federal government back in the mid-2000s to change the count dates from July to October (when the universities are in session).

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    longtimerez: the actual count of students takes place on april 1. census day has been that day for years. other counts you're talking about in july or october are not relevant here, as whatever they are don't produce numbers that are used for redistricting.

    i've never recommended a "facile once-over of the results" (if we're going to start throwing quotes back and forth). the council will make sure that things are handled appropriately. if you believe that GGW's tool is facile, fine. your opinion, plus mine, rubbed together with a quarter won't get either of us far on a bus.

  • marcus

    DePillis and Alpert's pontifications routinely show their ageism,
    and they chummingly pat each other on the back for it. As a twenty six-year old, they would gang me in their 'group,' But, I think their attitude poses a great disservice to the entire community.

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