Neighborhood leaders protest against RPA-chosen election map, saying it disenfranchises Black voters

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Richmond City Hall (Photo credit: Mike Kinney)

Leaders of a coalition of Richmond neighborhood councils are planning to rally at Richmond City Hall on Tuesday in protest of the Richmond Progressive Alliance-dominated City Council’s decision to select a district election map that, according to neighborhood leaders, disenfranchises the city’s black community and serves as an example of modern-day gerrymandering.

The planned protest is scheduled to take place at City Hall at 4:30 p.m., just before the City Council is set to meet and possibly cast a second vote to adopt a district election map called Map 201 that does not include a black majority-minority district.

The coalition of over a dozen neighborhood councils had unified to support a separate map called Map 102(c) that includes one Latino majority-minority district, and one black majority-minority district, based upon data from the 2020 Census.

On Tuesday, March 22, the four members of the RPA who command a majority on the City Council – Eduardo Martinez, who is running for mayor, Gayle McLaughlin (who represents District 5), Melvin Willis (District 1) and Claudia Jimenez (District 6) – voted to support Map 201. The map passed by the slim margin of 4-3, with Mayor Tom Butt voting “no” along with Councilmembers Nat Bates and Demnlus Johnson.

Neighborhood council leaders charge that the RPA voted for a map that will better position the radical group to retain its majority on City Council over the next decade, and against a map that was created in the spirit of the Voting Rights Act, which seeks to ensure fair representation of minority voters in the city by creating two Voting Rights Act districts.

The RPA-supported Map 201 includes no changes to Districts 1 and 6, and minimal changes to District 5, except the latter district would slightly increase the white population and reduce the black and brown population, which previously had a slight majority.

“We are asking residents to join us in saying it’s not OK for the City Council to choose a map that benefits them and not our communities,” said Arto Rinteela, president of the Fairmede-Hilltop Neighborhood Council. “We hope to send a message that the City Council was elected by the people and they should try to listen to the people.”

The RPA members on council have denied political motivation in voting for Map 201 and claim their map will stop 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 countered that about 6,000 Black residents would be denied the opportunity to vote in a Black majority District under Map 201. Councilmember Bates called the map proposed by neighborhood councils “more equitable.”

Also expressing opposition to Map 201 was the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, which released a statement today saying the map “clearly benefits the RPA City Council members and NOT the city or neighborhoods of Richmond.”

“As business owners in Richmond, we understand the importance of engaging with and listening to Neighborhood Councils and community members,” the Chamber said.

For more background on this issue, read our earlier report here. To see a comparison of district maps, click here.