The Committee of 100’s P.R. Problem
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.
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.