RPA accused of disenfranchising Richmond’s Black community in council vote for district election map

Richmond residents invited to community meetings on city's budget
Richmond City Hall (Photo by Mike Kinney)

The Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a political association that currently holds four of the seven seats on City Council, is facing accusations of disenfranchising Richmond’s Black community and gerrymandering for rejecting a district election map proposed by a coalition of neighborhood leaders and organizations in favor of a map that is more favorable to RPA incumbents.

On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council voted 4-3, with the four RPA members voting as a bloc, to move forward with Map 201, a district map that is similar to the current map linked to 2010 Census data.

In doing so, the RPA members on council — Gayle Mclaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez — rejected Map 102(c), which features two majority-minority districts in terms of voting age population, one in which the Latino population has a majority and another in which the Black population has a majority. The RPA’s preferred map does not include a Black majority-minority district, which neighborhood council leaders decry as diluting representation of an historically disenfranchised group at the expense of a political association’s desire to retain power.

Neighborhood leaders say the RPA’s decision goes against the will of the people and also against the spirit of the Voting Rights Act, which aims to ensure adequate representation for under-represented citizens.

The RPA members on council on Tuesday denied political motivation in voting for Map 201 and repeated their primary contention that their vote aimed to eliminate the disenfranchisement of about 6,000 voters who, under Map 102(c), wouldn’t be able to vote in the next City Council election due to the way that the map boundaries are redrawn.  Councilmember Johnson pointed out that over 6,000 Black residents would be denied the opportunity to vote in a Black majority District under the RPA supported Map 201.

In addition, neighborhood leaders counter that the deferment of some voters is a necessary consequence to ensure equity when redrawing district boundaries based upon the latest Census data. Both Black members currently serving on City Council, Nat Bates and Demnlus Johnson, voted in favor of Map 102(c). Bates said he felt that Map 102(c) was “the most equitable.”

For more background on this issue, read our earlier report here.