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NEWS

The other fair districts

Orlando's coming reapportionment process promises some local political theater

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Sheehan wouldn't have to walk far to be in Commissioner Phil Diamond's District 1. His home is bordered on two sides by Sheehan's District 4. For the past couple of redistricting procedures, she says, there's been an emphasis on protecting District 1 by connecting the Wadeview area and Delaney Park neighborhood through creative mapping, something she suspects may be impossible this time. As a result of the mapping, District 1 is an apparent misshapen blob with a tenuous connection to the rest of the city. At about 55 square miles, it's also roughly equal to half of the city in physical size.

"I have a really interesting district," Diamond says. "I have some parts of the city that were established in the 1920s, then you have some areas that were developed in the '50s, '60s and '70s. It's interesting to deal with a mix of neighborhoods. It's interesting to deal with a mix of issues."

Previously, District 1's most prominent feature was the largely unpopulated Orlando International Airport, but with the explosion of growth around the adjacent Lake Nona, the features of the district could easily change. In 2001, the Lake Nona neighborhood only had about 100 residents, all of them white. Surely that's changed, but Diamond isn't jumping to any conclusions, instead allowing that there have probably been demographic ebbs and flows in all of the districts. According to city statutes, should Diamond's home no longer fall in his district after reapportionment, he'll be able to serve out his term through 2014 but could not run for re-election. Diamond "hinted" 
to the Sentinel on Feb. 18 that he would likely be going after Mayor Buddy Dyer's seat in 2012 - all the more reason that the reapportionment process is taking a political turn.

And redistricting, at least from the city staff's standpoint, should be a reasonably clinical process including a "traveling road show" for public input. It should not be, as history has had it, contentious and overtly political.

"From the government's perspective, what we have to do is put those political agendas aside, ignore them and draw lines in a way that isn't based on the color of peoples' skin only," says Kyle Shephard, assistant city attorney and redistricting point-person. "The driving thing for us, the controlling operative issue, is as much equality in the number of people in one district to the other."

Just don't try telling that to somebody like Doug Head who has endured the 
process before.

"There's a thousand games and this is politics at its worst," he says. "I have always used the analogy of The Matrix. This truly is The Matrix. You may think you're in paradise, but this process determines the matrix on which we make all political decisions for the coming decades. If it's rigged, as it is very definitely going to be, people will not get representation."

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