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Hillsborough Commission squabbles, picks 3 redistricting maps

The redrawn district boundaries must be finalized by Dec. 31
Hillsborough Commissioner Gwen Myers said the only time "people who don't look like me" are concerned about the black community is during elections and redistricting. She is shown during a June 16 commission meeting on HGTV.
Hillsborough Commissioner Gwen Myers said the only time "people who don't look like me" are concerned about the black community is during elections and redistricting. She is shown during a June 16 commission meeting on HGTV. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 29

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners’ attempts Wednesday at drawing boundaries for their own districts turned into political sniping about ulterior motives and concerns about whether the Black community received fair treatment.

It was a continuation of the discord that emerged earlier this month during the commission’s first public attempt at redistricting.

By the end of the hour-long meeting Wednesday, a commission majority agreed to forward three separate maps, all drafted by individual commissioners, to public hearings in November. The district boundaries must be finalized by Dec. 31.

The once-a-decade task is to divide the county’s more than 1.4 million residents — and 908,000 registered voters — among four commission districts to comply with federal law and the county charter. Three other commission seats are countywide.

Commissioners had little trouble dismissing one of the proposed maps that had been produced by their staff, but turned parochial when debating the proposals from Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp and Commissioners Gwen Myers and Harry Cohen.

Related: Hillsborough redistricting disintegrates into salvos questioning motives

One of the commission’s goals was to maintain a 39 percent Black population within Myers’ Tampa-based District 3. Currently, the number of black voters countywide is 143,250 with 62,000 residing in District 3, an area represented by a black commissioner since adoption of the county charter in the early 1980s. The maps from Kemp and Cohen met the 39 percent threshold and Myer’s version registered 38.7 percent black population in her district.

Later, Commissioner Stacy White said he thought 0.3 percent was statistically insignificant and that all the maps met the goal.

One of the main differences among the proposals was the location of the city of Temple Terrace. Democrats hold a 3,400-voter enrollment edge over Republicans in the city of 16,500 voters. Most of the city currently is in District 2 represented by Commissioner Ken Hagan, a Republican. Myers proposal moves all of Temple Terrace into District 3. The maps from Kemp and Cohen put all of the city within District 2.

Another difference is how the proposed maps treat the south county coastal areas. Currently, District 1 stretches south to include Ruskin.

Myers’ map leaves Apollo Beach in District 1, but puts the shore areas south of that in District 4, currently held by Commissioner Stacy White. The proposals from Cohen and Kemp put Apollo Beach in District 4, but leaves the coastal edge north of there in District 1. Cohen said the vicinity’s ties to Port Tampa Bay make it a logical inclusion into his District 1.

Hagan repeated his earlier claim that Kemp drew a self-serving map by putting her own home in Seminole Heights into a different district. He contended Cohen’s map benefited the Democratic Party’s interests, by making Cohen’s District 1 and Hagan’s District 2 lean more Democratic.

“This has become a political process. As much as we want to ignore it, redistricting has become particularly partisan. It’s the worst kept secret at the County Center,” said Hagan.

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Commissioner Mariella Smith, who said she favored Kemp’s version, noted Hagan was “somehow lamenting there are people talking about politics in this while he’s talking about his own political advantage in this.”

Myers’ version, Hagan acknowledged, “would be best for the Republican Party. But, it’s immaterial. I didn’t draw a map.”

Myers criticized board members for what she said were attempts to address concerns of the Black community only at times of elections or redistricting.

“People who don’t look like me try to convince us what we need. People who don’t look like me, when they get what they want, they forget about the African-American community,” Myers said.

“We are sick and tired as an African-American community (of being used.) That has to stop. That is not going to continue in the African-American community.”

Her commentary drew an even-tempered rebuke from Commissioner Kimberly Overman who noted the affordable housing, health care and other issues for which she had advocated.

“Just because I’m not Black doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention,” said Overman.

Myers attempted to stop Kemp’s proposed map from being sent to public hearing, but only Hagan supported her. Later, Myers and Hagan voted against a motion to forward all three maps for public consideration. The public hearings are scheduled for Nov. 6 and Nov. 18