As required (well, almost required) under the city charter, Houston is adding two new city council districts due to population growth. After a few months of planning and debate, Mayor Annise Parker has released a proposed map. Public hearings start April 13.
It is difficult to get a sense of where exactly some of these boundaries fall. I spent a few minutes trying to do an overlay of the new districts on a city map.
[Edit: Here is a great map overlay]
The two big changes, beyond merely adding two new districts, are the changes to District C, and the J District.
First, District C undergoes a major reshaping. Originally, C was the area around West University and Bellaire, following along that southwest Houston circle of 610 and 59, extending from that into Meyerland and that general area. Under the new map, C loses its northeast corner and southwest extremities, instead following along 610 south, up to Westpark, and following along the area between Westpark and Westheimer (I think) and out to the city boundary near Highway 6.
Looking at a racial breakdown of Houston in this somewhat confusing map by data king Eric Fischer, C probably won’t change too much racially. Some red dots are being trades for other red dots.
However, not all politics is race. District C is shifting from the more original suburbs to Houston’s new suburbs along the appropriately new Westpark Tollroad. The oldschool Jewish Meyerland suburbs are being taken from the inner loop communities and being attached to distant suburbs. Furthermore, I think a good deal of this area is medium density apartments interrupted by strip malls. It would be interesting to see a real breakdown along election results, comparing what is being taken from C and what is being added. To throw out a guess, Democrats are being taken and Republican votes are being added. The former District C city councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck was a moderate Republican. However, she is term limited out from running again, justifying such a notable district shift. The apparent shoe-in to replace her was former state representative Ellen Cohen. However, this change to the district has apparently drawn her out of the District C race.
Hypothetically, would Representative Cohen even be a good fit for the new District C? During her time in Austin, Rep. Cohen had an image of being that somewhat liberal Jewish grandmother. This would have been a great face for the old District C, with its combo of Meyerland, inner-loop lower-upper class, and parts of the Museum District and Rice University. The new District C, with its slice of tollroad Richmond strip suburbia, may be better suited for a business-y Republican type. Even Clutterbuck, with her commonsense Christian soccer-mom schtick, may not be perfect for this new district in which C is apparently for Commuter.
However, as Cohen indicated, while she cannot run for C, she can run for District J, which brings us to big change number two: District J!
District J will be, as the joke goes, the Jay district. (Wait, is it pronounced Jay or Gay? Its a hard G, right? He’s a Jay!)
The new District J will be “an almost painfully hip, edgy, so-cool-it-hurts” combo of the Heights, Montrose, Museum District, and Rice University.
During the redistricting planning stages, there were rumors of the creation of a “Gay Council Seat.” While it was dismissed at the time, this is basically it. The Houston gay community is one of the most politically organized Democratic demographics in the city, and there is little doubt that it could successfully run someone for City Council in J. However, Ellen Cohen’s political experience and hip grandmotherly appeal to J’s youthful community definitely make her an appealing candidate.
Furthermore, it isn’t as if Houston’s gay community has had trouble running candidates for city council in other districts.
We’ll have to wait and see if this new city council map is even approved. And while I am not glad that my family’s home is going to be part of the new District C….
I am really anticipating to see how District J will reshape the debate inside City Hall.