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  • Rachel Behrndt

We have been working through the redistricting process, as a Council.

Here are some articles about the process and how I am working to address citizen concerns for not dividing communities of interest and ensuring fair representation for all:
 
Residents will once again weigh in on Fort Worth’s contentious redistricting process
 
Historically Black community tries to make voices heard on Fort Worth City Council

by Rachel Behrndt | February 20, 2022 12:00 pm


The tight-knit community of Como is tucked into the southwest side of Fort Worth. It’s nestled next to neighborhoods that, despite their proximity, are a world away.


Residents and representatives say it’s not just the demographics that are different; they point to a proud culture of civic participation that defines the neighborhood. A predominantly Black community that traces its origins to segregation, Como residents are fighting to make sure their voices are heard in the city for the next decade.


During redistricting task force meetings and other public meetings, a chorus of Como residents is advocating for one goal: Como needs to be included in a City Council district that gives them the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.


“I don’t get paid for this, I have other stuff to do, but I want to make sure my vote counts,” Leon Reed Jr., a lawyer and longtime Como resident, said.


Como has long been a part of District 3, now represented by Michael Crain. The majority Black neighborhood has been represented by a white council member for decades. Residents are looking to use the redistricting process, which occurs only every 10 years, to move into District 6, currently represented by Jared Williams, a Black man who is one of four council members of color. By moving into Williams’ district, Como would likely have a better chance of being represented by a person of color.


Crain got emotional at the thought of no longer representing Como. He said he thinks he’s been able to understand the unique challenges and needs of the Como community, but not every council member elected in District 3 will prioritize Como as he has.


“I think I’m a better representative because I go to Como,” he said after pausing and looking down to collect his thoughts. “I’d love to keep them in my district, but I also understand their struggles and that they’d like representation that might understand them a little better than me.”


Como’s history

Como is in the unique position of being an island among heavily white and affluent communities on all sides. Its unique geography is a product of its history. Como was created to be a resort destination modeled after the Italian Lake Como. It was home to high-value real estate until The Panic of 1893 knocked down the prices of homes, allowing domestic workers to buy homes close to the wealthy areas they worked in.


Since the 1900s, Como has remained an island of Black residents in a sea of white communities. Texas Christian University humanities professor Frederick W. Gooding, Jr. said the origins of the Como community have profoundly impacted how elected officials prioritized the neighborhood.


Gooding described the stark contrast between resources available in the Como community and the more affluent communities blocks away.


“It was just absolutely amazing as it was alarming to see… I can’t find any apples, you know? In the stores that were nearly half a mile away from a (luxury grocery store),” Gooding said.

The invisible line that divides Como from its neighbors used to be a physical one. A wall built in the 1940s separated Como from neighboring majority-white Ridglea. Kamryn Johnson, secretary of the Como Neighborhood Advisory Committee, said he heard about the wall from elder Como residents growing up, and it affected how he viewed the community and the role he played within it.


“It wasn’t my great grandmother’s fault she didn’t have the means they had across the wall, because she wasn’t afforded those opportunities,” Johnson said. “And we’ve come a long way as African Americans, and I can say that I am more privileged than she was.”


Gooding said the unique challenges Como faces are the result of compounding failures to address the communities’ needs, which stems from their lack of voting power in a district where the majority of other residents are white and wealthy.


“The Como residents are, unfortunately, the latest victim of this pattern, and now they are bringing attention to it by speaking out about it,” Gooding said.


Johnson was asked to create and submit maps to the City Council for the Como community, which he completed with help from Citizens for Independent Redistricting. He said growing up in Como instilled in him the importance of voting.


“We have been in this situation long enough where if we get everybody in Como to vote it would not change the outcome of the election,” Johnson said.


In January, city staff met with members of the neighborhood association, including Johnson, to create a map that connects Como to District 6. City spokesperson Michelle Gutt said Como residents used the map from the meeting for further discussions with elected officials.


Almost every map City Council members brought for consideration at the Feb. 15 redistricting meeting included Como within District 6 by creating a bridge along Chisolm Trail Pkwy.


State redistricting

This isn’t Como’s first brush with redistricting concerns this year. In Austin, Como was represented by state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, for six years and said it has served as a model community for the rest of Fort Worth.


“I’ve always been able to point to Como as the good things that can happen even when you’re surrounded by poverty,” Romero said.


Activist and Attorney Leon Reed Jr. has advocated for Como throughout the redistricting process. Como’s new district, State House District 99 includes Northwest Fort Worth, including parts of Azle. He said observers don’t need to look any further than the demographics of their new district, to see why they’re upset about the change. The district represented by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is all but assured to vote Republican.


“When representatives can totally ignore a segment of that district and still win, the people in those communities don’t have any power,” Reed said.


Romero said Como was collateral damage in a partisan redistricting process that Tarrant County Democrats didn’t have any control over. Romero said he lost Como because Republican lawmakers wanted to move Democratic areas of southeast Fort Worth out of districts held by Republicans to ensure they stay red.


By moving the blue-trending communities of Wedgewood, South Hills and others into state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, and Romero’s districts, they became overpopulated. To equalize the population, Romero lost Alamo Heights, Sunset Heights and Como.


“We had no choice,” Romero said. “When you’ve spent so much time getting to know Como and serving them, it was kind of a heartbreaker I wasn’t able to keep it.”


Romero said that while residents couldn’t impact the state redistricting process, Como residents now have an opportunity to ensure they are a part of a City Council district where their votes could be the difference between one candidate being elected over another, forcing all candidates to take their concerns seriously.


Pastor Kenneth Jones Jr., senior pastor at Como First Missionary Baptist Church, said Como has been one of the most consistent voting blocks in a city known for low turnout in municipal elections. Despite Como being actively engaged in Fort Worth politics for decades, Jones said, they have never been able to make a difference in Fort Worth politics with their votes alone.


“Let’s give this strong, organized, vibrant community their vote,” Jones said. “Because if we don’t vote, we have no juice.”


Gooding said Black residents having the opportunity to affect local elections with their vote goes far beyond prioritizing pothole fixes or repairing stoplights. He described the situation in southwest Fort Worth, where a short drive away from the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding TCU, stands the ZIP code with the lowest life expectancy in Texas.


“This literally is a matter of life and death,” Gooding said. “And locally is where we feel it the most.”


Johnson, who is 23, describes driving two miles down the road from Como to Westover Hills, which seems far removed from the life he knows in Como.


He said he is investing his time and talent into the redistricting process because he understands 8-year-olds living in Como will be eligible to vote in 10 years when the redistricting process begins again. He wants them to have the opportunity to cast a ballot with confidence that their vote will matter.


“They have to know from the get-go that their voice is heard and that their voices matter,” Johnson said.


Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

 
Explainer: Fort Worth redistricting stalemate reflects Far North vs. South split

by Rachel Behrndt | March 8, 2022 4:40 pm


Redistricting, in concept, is simple: Equalize population across a fixed number of districts to create a map that accurately and evenly gives one person, one vote. In some cities, the process can go quickly. For example, Austin finished redistricting in early October. Arlington wrapped up redistricting Dec. 15.


Fort Worth is more complicated than that.


At the Feb. 28 public hearing, 25 city residents stated their support for council member Chris Nettles’ map, also known as MapX_Version3, with a horseshoe amendment. A day later, the council prioritized the map ahead of its final public comment meeting on March 22.


That means council member Cary Moon’s map, which creates two new districts in far north Fort Worth, is down but not out.


Despite this apparent step forward, the chosen map left some key players unsatisfied. To approve the map, the council needs five votes, meaning one more council member needs to join Elizabeth Beck, Gyna Bivens, Chris Nettles and Jared Williams in support of Nettles’ map. As a March 29 deadline bears down, the council still lacks consensus.


Michael Crain, District 3 council member who represents west Fort Worth including Ridglea Hills, is a potential swing vote. His priority is maintaining communities of interest in District 3.

Crains believes Nettles’ map with a horseshoe maintains key communities of interest in District 3, including the Tanglewood and Colonial Hills area and the Ridgmar Alliance. He hopes the council can get away from politics and toward crafting policy that is best for all residents.


Far north Fort Worth feels like ‘afterthought’

Rusty Fuller was one of three voices at the Feb. 28 public hearing advocating for three new districts that accommodate future growth north of Loop 820. At a map-drawing session the following day, Leonard Firestone, District 7 council member who represents far Northwest Fort Worth including Texas Motor Speedway, argued Fuller represented thousands of people with his comments.


Fuller, the president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, said he draws one conclusion from the March 1 work session that prioritized Nettles’ map: “We got screwed again.”


While some council members’ focus is set squarely on south Fort Worth, the far north will continue to suffer the same neglect as a result of redistricting, Fuller said.


“We don’t want to be left out of the equation because they’re so concerned about moving neighborhoods around inside the loop,” Fuller explained.


Fuller and council members Moon and Firestone are asking for the far north to be represented by three new districts. Fuller explained that the lack of representation for residents living north of the loop has led to their interests being consistently deprioritized by the council.


“Those folks have felt for the past 15 years that they’re an afterthought,” Fuller said.


The far north did receive attention in the 2022 bond, set to be on voters’ ballots in May. The bond sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and a new library in the far north.


The far north needs these investments to keep coming, he said, and having a third voice on the council could potentially make a huge impact. In his comments to council members at the Feb.


28 public comments, Fuller emphasized that the council should take into account future growth.


“By population, we warrant three districts. (Nettles’ map) designates two and a half districts in the north, and future residents will again be disadvantaged for 10 more years,” Fuller said.


Fuller believes that it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep communities of interest together while ensuring that two districts have enough Hispanic concentration to elect the candidate of their choice. While council members work toward an unlikely objective, the far north will suffer, he said.


Cary Moon, whose map was deprioritized by the council at its March 1 meeting, has drawn seven maps since early February.


“No one has drawn more maps than me,” Moon said.


Moon emphasizes that growth in districts north of the loop has outpaced growth inside the loop. That growth isn’t monolithic and contains diverse residents, including Hispanics, he said. Moon explains that as districts are drawn now, there isn’t a single council district placed exclusively in the far north. An elected representative could theoretically represent residents north of Loop 820 and never experience the poor roads or lack of city services far north residents complain about.


“It took us eight years after redistricting to get a police station in the far north, 10 years to get a second library for 270,000 people,” Moon said. “You’re looking at an area that is the size of Denton and Waco combined, and you have one elected official.”


Beck addressed these concerns at the March 1 work session. The historic wrongs done to voters of color should take precedence over the needs of residents in the far north, she said.


“Not because we didn’t build roads, but because we have quite literally taken away their right to vote at times in our history,” Beck said. “We have all inherited the sins of the people that came before us.”


Fuller said the March 1 meeting revealed a split in the council, and council members are growing increasingly unconcerned with the needs of the far north.


“I’m terribly disappointed,” Fuller said. “To put Moon’s map as a lower priority without seeing it with the horseshoe is both premature and evidence that they’ve stopped listening.”

Does new map represent interests of Southside, Hispanic voters?

Some residents supported Nettles’ map, saying it represented the interests of Hispanic voters from various parts of the city. Hector Andrés Maldonado, a community organizer with JOLT, which works to increase Hispanic representation and engagement, sees the frustration of Hispanic voters first hand.


“We believe version three with a horseshoe amendment and Hispanic-opportunity district would give Latinos, especially younger Latinos, the hope they need to someday secure a place at the table,” Maldonado said.


Carlos Flores, who represents District 2 including heavily Latino areas of north Fort Worth and the Stockyards, is the lone Hispanic member on the council. His map, titled MapX_Version4, was tabled early on in discussions.


The map these speakers supported on March 1 underwent changes immediately ahead of the hearing and wasn’t available for view by residents ahead of public comment, Flores said. Does this newest iteration of Nettles’ map hit the mark of Hispanic representation? Flores offered a simple answer: “No.”


“I don’t think the public understood that the map (they were advocating for) incorporated other changes,” he said.


Throughout the hours-long redistricting meetings, Flores consistently raised questions about how each of the presented maps will impact Hispanic representation.


“As a Hispanic, I can understand, very acutely, the history of under-representation for the Hispanic community and why … now is the time to make sure that these interests are known,” Flores said.


He has advocated for a second Hispanic-opportunity district with a Hispanic voting-age population of well over 50%. He is hesitant to give a specific number that would define what would be considered a district where the Hispanic population is likely to elect the candidate of their choice.


“It’s hard to define. It’s too subjective,” Flores said. “You have to keep in mind how diverse the Hispanic population is.”


That diversity comes into play in voting, he said, because some can vote and some can’t, such as the undocumented. Hispanic voters tend to be consistently concentrated in the Northside and Southside of Fort Worth.


“That gives support to where those opportunity districts ought to be,” Flores said, “because it’s not just an exercise to create two new opportunity districts. You have to make them viable.”

Councilwoman Beck represents District 9, including parts of downtown Fort Worth. She also represents many of the Hispanic communities advocating for a Southside opportunity district. She questioned Flores’ objectives at a Feb. 22 meeting.


“We don’t know what (Flores) is channeling,” Beck said. “The ball keeps getting moved.”


The horseshoe version of Nettles’ map was brought up too quickly to truly analyze the impacts of its changes on other areas of the map, Flores said. He pointed out that this map, despite it being prioritized by the council at the next public hearing, is not a map of consensus. It could represent a good track for the council to develop further, to arrive at a final map everybody can live with, he said.


“I remain optimistic that, among us council members, we can talk about any changes we may want to see to arrive at a map that we can get consensus on,” Flores said.


Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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