Some 14-1 critics fear plan will splinter neighborhoods

The Dallas Morning News - Saturday, December 1, 1990
Author: Judy Howard, Bruce Tomaso, Staff Writers of The Dallas Morning News:


Douglas Newby, a business leader in East Dallas, long has believed that ethnic minorities need a greater voice on the Dallas City Council.

Yet he has decided to vote against the 14-1 proposal.

"Our fear is we're going to be sliced into parts of three or four or five different districts,' Mr. Newby said. "And you can't expect Diane Ragsdale, or Lori Palmer, or Glenn Box -- or whoever succeeds them in these new districts that each have a sliver of East Dallas in them -- to represent the needs and concerns of all of East Dallas.'

Though community activists have been among the strongest advocates of increasing minority representation on the council, some now say they are torn between that goal and the fear that achieving it will endanger the political integrity of their neighborhoods.

"I'm wholeheartedly in favor of a system to increase representation by people of color,' said Mr. Newby, owner of Munger Place Real Estate and a longtime East Dallas resident. "What I'm not in favor of is dividing up neighborhoods and segregating East Dallas into different political fiefdoms.'

Other activists, however, are solidly behind 14-1.

Oak Cliff resident DeMetris Sampson said it is "highly possible' that neighborhood preservation is being used as a "scapegoat' to side-step the other issue. She said concerns about dividing neighborhoods are more likely to be expressed in Anglo rather than minority neighborhoods.

"We're talking about a legal right that is protected . . . , which is ethnic representation, and a right that is not protected, which is neighborhood representation,' said Ms. Sampson, a lawyer and chairwoman of the Political Congress of African American Women.

Dallas residents will vote Dec. 8 on whether 14 council members should be elected from individual districts and the mayor elected citywide. The plan is the city's response to a March decision by U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer. He ruled that the current council of eight members elected from single-member districts and three, including the mayor, chosen at large dilutes the voting strength of African-Americans and Hispanics.

Don Weeks, president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League , said he probably won't vote for the 14-1 plan because he fears the boundary lines could divide north and south Oak Cliff.

"If there's any fragmentation to the current neighborhood, then I'm against it,' said Mr. Weeks, a lifelong Oak Cliff resident. "There's nothing that says that's not going to happen, as far as I know.'

Ideally, there should be more time to consider the 14-1 plan and use the 1990 U.S. census as a basis from which to work, he said.

But Lisa LeMaster, spokeswoman for the mayor's 14-1 for Dallas committee, said such concerns are premature and not peculiar to any neighborhood.

"The questions that people in East Dallas have are no different from the questions that people in any other part of the city have,' she said. "Changing the form of city government is enormously complex. There are lots of questions about it.'

An organizer for the Just Say No! to 14-1 campaign warned that East Dallas residents should consider the proposal's potential effects.

"For the city to say this will not destroy neighborhoods is a lie,' said Pat Cotton. "You cannot get the number of minority districts that the city is committed to under its quota plan without gerrymandering to draw some of the districts. And you can't gerrymander without destroying some neighborhoods.'

Craig Reynolds, president of the Hollywood-Santa Monica Neighborhood Association, said that protecting East Dallas does not seem to be a priority of 14-1 advocates at City Hall -- although a gerrymandered East Dallas could harm race relations in the city.

"We've strived for years in East Dallas to be this rainbow coalition,' said Mr. Reynolds, an architect. "Now, we're being divided up to fill out districts that are entirely segregated. . . . That's totally contrary to what we've tried to do in East Dallas and as a society.'

Yet Ms. LeMaster and other supporters said gerrymandering could be avoided by involving many communities and carefully drawing the new boundaries.

"I think that's one thing that we need to make sure happens, that we have some persons on that committee that are going to be able to look at the southern sector in a meaningful way,' said Trini Garza, an Oak Cliff businessman who backs the 14-1 plan.

Lonnie Murphy, an Oak Cliff precinct chairman and a former council candidate, backs the plan and criticizes the Just Say No! leaders for turning redistricting into an issue of black and white.

"Some of their innuendos, the rhetoric they are espousing over there, are not those of harmony,' he said.

Craig Murphy, an Oak Cliff mathematician, said any redistricting configuration with fewer than 14 council seats could produce, especially in the southern part of Dallas, "some rather bitter, racially divided contests, because somebody is going to be the odd man out.'

Ralph Rodriguez, a lawyer and co-chairman of the East Dallas for 14-1 Committee, said that under the 14-1 plan, the concerns of ethnic minority voters and the neighborhoods can be adequately addressed.

"As a resident of East Dallas, I am interested in neighborhood issues, in crime watch issues and so forth,' Mr. Rodriguez said. "But also, as a Hispanic resident of East Dallas, I'm concerned about ensuring that there is equal representation for all groups on the City Council.'

Joe May, a former City Plan commission member, has worked with some East Dallas and Oak Cliff groups to draw a map that they believe might serve as a starting point if 14-1 is approved.

"It creates good opportunities for southern minorities, it preserves all of your southern geographical white areas, and it protects the East Dallas and Oak Lawn area,' he said.

The map "creates a clear Hispanic district,' said Craig Murphy, who also worked on the proposed configuration.

Still, the map's boundaries do not fully resolve the problem of representing the city's Hispanic population, said Mr. May, who believes Hispanics are entitled to two seats. He has challenged the criticism that 14-1 is merely a matter of political quotas.

"In essence, the real quota is the present system . . . because it locks out Hispanics entirely,' he said.

Pamela Mount, an Oak Cliff activist who backs the 14-1 plan, said laying the foundation of equal representation in Dallas determines what city government eventually needs to become.

"Each generation accepts change,' said Mrs. Mount, vice president of the Texas Theater Historical Society. "I think in the '90s, equal rights is still a topic. And it's 30 years old, and it should be resolved by now.'