Bethesda | Politics

Montgomery County Council approves final redistricting map

Friedson lone ‘no’ vote because of changes it would make to his district   

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The caption with this map was updated at 11:20 a.m. Dec. 8, 2021, to correct references to Districts 5 and 6. 

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday approved a new political map that adds two council districts and redraws the boundaries of others.

The vote to approve the map was 8-1, with Council Member Andrew Friedson, who represents Potomac-based District 1, the only “no” vote.

A redistricting panel of volunteers provided the council with a new map to consider. The council then made what Council Member Nancy Navarro called a few “minor, minor tweaks.”

One change involved the Kemp Mill area near Wheaton.

The redistricting panel’s proposed map would have split up a long-established Orthodox Jewish community in Kemp Mill.

The council, however, kept that community together in a new Wheaton-based district that has a plurality of Latino residents. Kemp Mill residents requested to be kept together.

But that change would have diluted the Latino population in the new District 6.

So, the council also approved another change — moving Derwood and Redland from District 6 to upcounty District 7. That move strengthens the Latino plurality of District 6, making up for the dilution to the district caused by the shift of the Kemp Mill neighborhood.

The new seven-district map that the Montgomery County Council approved on Tuesday. District 1 is red (south). District 2 is blue (west). District 3 is yellow. District 4 is light blue (southeast). District 5 is light green, District 6 is purple. District 7 is orange (north).
The demographic breakdown of the seven new Montgomery County Council districts.

The council also approved a request from Kensington Mayor Tracey Furman to put Ken-Gar and Kensington into the same council district. Ken-Gar is an enclave between Kensington and Garrett Park that was settled in 1892 by former slaves and has been historically a Black community, although in recent years it has become more diverse.

Although it is next to Kensington, and shares the same school district, Ken-Gar and Kensington have traditionally belonged to different council districts. Now, both Ken-Gar and Kensington will belong to new County Council District 4.

In an interview, Furman said she is pleased with the change because “Ken-Gar is our next-door neighbor.”

The new District 4, which detractors say is shaped like a gerrymandered “bow tie,” also includes Takoma Park, Silver Spring and, to the dismay of some of its residents, North Bethesda.

North Bethesdans have flooded the council with objections to the inclusion of their neighborhood in that district, preferring instead to be grouped with Bethesda or Rockville.

But the council said it could not accommodate that request because shifting about 40,000 North Bethesda residents into another district would require a redrawing of the entire proposed new map.

Friedson said he supported the “refinements” made to the map, including keeping the Kemp Mill community together and “protecting the historic Ken-Gar community from being separated by train tracks from their historic connection to the town of Kensington.”

“However, our goal was to keep communities together and I remained concerned with precincts in Bethesda south of the spur being separated from the rest of Bethesda,” Friedson wrote later in a text message to Bethesda Beat.

He also said he appreciated that the final map put the Seven Locks community in Potomac back together, but only at the cost of splitting up parts of Chevy Chase.

“That change, which was previously not considered, is a significant change which I’m not sure the residents of those communities in north and east Chevy Chase were even aware of,” Friedson wrote.

He also cited “the North Bethesda concerns which I tried to address throughout the process” as a reason he rejected the map.

Friedson tried to postpone a vote on the map, but his colleagues on the council overruled him.

The panel of volunteers who created the map — a group that included Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated members and a Libertarian — were required by the federal Voting Rights Act to avoid violating the law’s “substantially equal population clause.” That clause does not allow a deviation in population greater than 10 percent between districts.

The redistricting process is necessary because of the expansion of the Montgomery County Council and the results of the 2020 U.S. census, which determined there have been substantial demographic changes in the county over the past decade.

The census found that the county’s population grew by more than 91,000 — from 971,284 to 1,062,710 — and became more diverse over the preceding decade, with nearly 60 percent of the county’s residents identifying as Latino, Black or Asian.

Except for Friedson, council members were enthusiastic about the new political map.

“This is a proposal that checks all the boxes,” Navarro said. “This is democracy in action.”

Council Member Will Jawando said: “I think we appropriately ranked the very hard choices.”

And new Council Vice President Evan Glass said: “No one is losing representation.”

“What we are gaining is more diversity and more democracy,” Glass added.

However new Council President Gabe Albornoz conceded that the council could not address everyone’s concerns about the new political lines.

“This was never going to be perfect,” he said.

The County Council currently has five members who represent districts and four who are at large. Because of an expansion approved by voters, the council now will have seven members representing districts and four who are at large.