The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee continued to solicit comments from the public Thursday for new redistricting maps that preserve an old status quo.
Though Duval County has a Democratic plurality, Republicans have a supermajority on the City Council, mainly due to the packing of Democratic voters in minority-access districts north and west of the St. Johns River.
A previous meeting at a high school on Jacksonville’s Westside saw people bristle at the maps and the lack of continuity of those districts, and Thursday’s meeting on the Southside again saw citizens venting about maps designed to protect incumbents and political machines.
One speaker called the mapping process “profoundly selfish and corrupt,” starting some pitched public comment.
“Competitive districts give the people a voice,” Gloria Einstein said. “Safe districts allow a representative to pursue their own interest … without considering the public interest.”
Alexander Watkins, wearing a “Black voters matter” shirt, decried “racial packing” in Districts 7 and 8, saying that was to the detriment of Black and Brown people.
Judy Sheklin lamented the exclusion of the public from the process, urging more inclusion of citizen input.
“In other cities, citizens are submitting redistricting maps,” Sheklin said. “Why aren’t we doing this here?”
LaShonda Holloway, a former candidate for Congress, said that the city “has suffered from the effects of poor redistricting plans for decades.” These districts are “packed” at the expense of districts like District 12, which currently is 33% Black and has a safe Republican hold.
“We need more competitive districts in this city,” Holloway said.
Council members exercised wide latitude in getting the map through the redistricting subcommittee, ensuring that incumbents would not be drawn out of their districts and protecting the status quo.
Council member Reggie Gaffney, running for state Senate, was especially exacting in ensuring his District 7 maintained its current demographics as it added territory from the Republican District 2.
Perhaps coincidentally, Reggie Gaffney Jr. is running for his father’s Council seat, the sole candidate with name recognition in a six-person Democratic field.
Ahead of public comment, a city lawyer expressed confidence in the work product.
“It was their preference they not fix the map where it did not need to be fixed,” asserted Paige Johnston, in a sort of clap back to those who fretted over having unrepresentative Council members at the previous meeting.
“The courts will say so long as the intent was non-discriminatory … then the map would be considered constitutional,” Johnston added.