Mobile city officials will consider a third redistricting map within the next two weeks and ahead of an August 12 date when the issue that has consumed a lot of attention at Government Plaza ends.
The maps will likely be discussed on Tuesday. A vote on a final proposal is set for August 9.
But whether the newest map gets the five-vote supermajority to pass remains to be seen. If no map proposal gets five of the council’s seven members to support it, then a map pitched earlier this year by Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration automatically takes effect.
At least one councilman said he was surprised that a new map would surface less than two weeks before the deadline for the mapmaking to be finished.
“The doesn’t give this map much time to be reviewed by the citizens impacted or by the city council members which was a major complaint the entire time from those who came down to voice their opposition to the mayor’s map, which had the most complete transparency and vetting of any of the maps presented to this point,” said Councilman Scott Jones.
The biggest question in the ongoing debate over the future of Mobile’s council districts is this: What will the racial demographics of Council District 7 look like in the final version.
Mobile, a majority-Black city, currently has a council of four white members, and three Black.
Under Stimpson’s map, introduced in February, District 7 would become a majority-minority district with 50.6% Black registered voters.
That figure has long been deemed too low for Councilman William Carroll and a host of community activists and Black pastors. In April, an alternate redistricting map surfaced boosting District 7’s Black representation to 53%.
The newest map has District 7’s Black voting-age population at 53.3% Black-41.2% white.
District 7 has long been represented by Councilwoman Gina Gregory, who is white.
The biggest changes between the new map and the map introduced in April involve some movement with a handful of neighborhoods. For instance, the Village of Spring Hill – splintered in the community coalition’s map – would remain mostly intact within the newest version.
Two of the council’s newest members – Ben Reynolds and Cory Penn – said Monday they support the third map and view it as a compromise. They said that neither the community coalition’s map nor the one pitched by Stimpson has enough support for approval.
“This gives the option to hear the needs and desires of the community and to work together (on a compromise),” said Penn.
Said Reynolds, “What’s important to me is that we have consensus on a plan and that we don’t just default to the mayor’s plan because we could not reach a consensus. As this thing has unfolded, it has become pretty clear to me that there isn’t a consensus for the mayor’s plan and for the community’s plan.”
Jason Johnson, a spokesperson for Stimpson’s administration, said that city staff is working with the council to assist them in creating a map, but that the process is directed by council members.
“The administration supports the council’s ongoing efforts to develop a map based on continued input from its members and the community,” he said. “There are multiple maps for the council to consider before its August 9 meeting, and we stand ready to assist any way we can.”
The organization “Stand Up Mobile,” in a news release Monday, said it supports the third map that maintains a 53% Black fourth district.
The organization, in a statement, said it was important that a final map is approved without “strings attached” to an annexation proposal. The Stimpson administration is planning to introduce a proposal to annex around 26,000 residents into the city of Mobile, but only after the redistricting process is completed.
An annexation plan, if adopted by voters in a special election, would likely require the city to reconsider whatever redistricting plan is adopted.
Jones has said he will abstain from a redistricting vote unless it coincides with an annexation plan. However, that appears unlikely.
“I have also stated that I am completely for the 53% in District 7, but that it should only happen when we have assurances from my colleagues who are pushing for this that they will unconditionally support the annexation plan that is on the table,” said Jones. “To this point, I have not heard that statement made.”
Stimpson’s annexation plan has been introduced to council members, but has yet to be released publicly, and Johnson said there are no immediate plans to do so.
“We are still in the process of working on the proposed maps and plans,” Johnson said. “We have discussed some initial work products with the council to receive their feedback and direction. There is still a lot of work left to do before we can put anything forward. We can say with certainty that nothing will be released until we’ve gotten through redistricting.”
Reynolds said that any annexation plan will require residents to vote before it can even happen. A previous annexation plan never went before voters for consideration because it was defeated by the council in 2019.
“It’s about giving people the right to vote,” he said. “When you make that decision, there needs to be a good lead up to it so that we’re successful or we are sure that we are doing the right thing.”
Reynolds said he thinks redistricting has stalled annexation.
“We had hoped to see an annexation plan earlier than this,” he said. “We were hoping it would have been introduced earlier.”
Mobile’s redistricting plan has been closely watched for months, with groups of pastors coming to council meetings for months and imploring members to ensure that Mobile has a majority-Black council.
The council has long been a 4-3 white majority.
Mobile’s population, according to the 2020 US Census, has 184,041 residents, and a growing Black majority. According to Census data, Mobile lost 10,570 white residents since 2010. The city’s Black population also declined, at 2,697 residents.
The city’s demographics in 2010 were 50.4% Black and 45.4% white. That split has grown to 51% Black, 40% white, according to the 2020 Census figures.