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NEWS

The other fair districts

Orlando's coming reapportionment process promises some local political theater

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In 2001, the city's population was just under 186,000 according to the 2000 census, and the ideal district population was determined to be 31,367. That population number is projected to grow by 15 percent when the current census numbers are released. The process of zig-zagging city district lines to approximate equality is one of exhaustive proposals and public input that will continue through the summer, leading up to a council vote that will most likely take place in the fall - just in time to meet the legally mandated four-month window that must exist between redistricting and municipal elections in the spring.

It might seem like simple math, but in 2001 it wasn't. Then-Commissioner Ernest Page of District 6 lamented that fact that his district had absorbed the predominantly white community of Metro West, telling the Sentinel in late 2001 (after the decisions were made) that "people are calling me and saying it's a conspiracy to dilute black voting power in 
this city."

That wasn't the only issue: Hispanic advocates were denied a majority in East Orlando's District 2. The affluent white homeowners of West Orlando's Rock Lake area - a cluster of homes known as Spring Lake Manor - were not able to hop Highway 50 (and Commissioner Daisy Lynum's District 5, which is home to many minority communities) to become part of District 3, where the likeminded community of College Park is located. Some business owners who found themselves in District 5 worked ineffectively to be separated from the blight of Parramore, which is also part of that district.

Significant changes were made in the municipal shuffle: Commissioner Sheehan ceded Baldwin Park to former Commissioner Vicki Vargo of District 3 (a position now held by Robert Stuart) and picked up numerous neighborhoods, including the area surrounding the Mall at Millenia, in the interest of supporting the city's two minority districts. She's hoping for more stability this time around.

"Basically, I was a peacemaker last time," she says. "I took everything everybody else didn't want, and it's been great. I mean, I had the most change last time. I'll work with anybody. I want to be amenable, but the only concern I've got - and Commissioner Stuart's got - is that we're all the way at the north part of our districts, so there's not a lot of room for us to be flexible."

And there's only so much flexibility to be had, according to Sheehan. She predicts a strong focus on keeping existing neighborhoods together, referring to a pre-2001 conundrum wherein Colonialtown was under the control of two different - and different minded - city commissioners.

"I think you should have one person you deal with, and if you're upset with the leadership as a neighborhood, I think you ought to be able to express that as a neighborhood," Sheehan says, noting that the neighborhood split was more than likely a political machination to dilute progressive voting. She will be running for a fourth term in 2012, but with district lines up in the air, she isn't sure how to go about campaigning. "I might not even get a chance to walk because I won't even know where to walk," she says.

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