Longtime DC residents can now reminisce on what was once known as Chocolate City. Recent Census Bureau data shows dramatic shifts in the city’s demographics, and with African Americans now being just barely the majority, how long will it take for local politics to catch up?
A fellow journo-friend of mine at Westwood One, John Domen, was able to pluck a particularly interesting chord out of the story when he interviewed American University political scientist Steven Taylor. Taylor believes the changing demographics have long had an impact on DC politics. It has meant good things for some of our elected officials, others not so much.
What some may not realize is that the shift in populations may also force the redrawing of wards. For DC residents, this could result in a royal pain in the butt as they’ll be moved into new wards and get different Council members in the process.
In the first decade of this new century, the District of Columbia saw some major changes. Those changes were perhaps no more evident than under the Anthony Williams administration. He saw the trend of a major African American exodus in some neighborhoods (or helped make it happen with his economic policies).
He was responsible for bringing Target to Columbia Heights. He was responsible for bringing baseball back to Washington, and if there weren’t enough Starbucks to satisfy the droves of young white professionals moving into the city, well, he took care of that, too.
Adrian Fenty continued the policies of Tony Williams, and the gentrification continued in areas like Petworth and “H” Street. American University’s Steven Taylor says what Williams and Fenty were trying to do was as plain as day.
“Mayors Williams and Fenty reached out to the growing white population in the District of Columbia. You could tell by some of their policies, particularly in regards to education and to the people they appointed to high level office.”
Williams and Fenty made no bones about their mission. They wanted to lure people back into the city. They were successful. In the case of Adrian Fenty, he was perhaps too successful for his own good.
During last year’s mayoral race, Fenty suffered from the perception that he only cared about the wealthier neighborhoods of the District. This perception may have not been a valid one, but Vincent Gray benefited from it nonetheless. Taylor says Gray never enjoyed support in those wealthier neighborhoods anyway, so he concentrated on what were still traditional African American areas.
It’s interesting, because despite the vanishing populations in places like Wards 7 and 8, Gray won the election, meaning his victory may have been just a symbolic one. “If the demographic trends keep moving as quickly as they have in the past decade, he’s going to have a difficult time probably for reelection,” says Taylor.
So who has the most to gain, and lose, over the next ten years? For that we have to look at areas like Wards 2 and 6, which have seen the most population gains in recent years. Perhaps the only reason why we haven’t seen players like Jack Evans run for mayor was because of this notion of “Chocolate City.” As we now know, that notion is becoming antiquated.
One also has to consider the massive influx of Hispanics into the District, not just over the last ten years, but over the last several decades. Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant are still the heart of D.C.’s Latino population, and Jim Graham has somehow successfully represented the population for a while now. The DC Latino Caucus did not support Graham in the last Council race, begging the question of how long it’s going to take for a Latino star to rise to the local political scene.
No matter which way you slice it, demographics matter, especially in politics. You can cling to old ideas of identity for only so long, but eventually, one must give in to the numbers. Numbers don’t lie.