Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Remap Keeps Incumbents on Guard Officials Protective as Districts Change

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Remap Keeps Incumbents on Guard Officials Protective as Districts Change

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew I. Pinzur, Times-Union staff writer

Politicians will protect their turf, and in the hyper-political process of redrawing Jacksonville City Council district lines they will do it with gusto.

They will consider demographics, they will consider communities of interest and they will consider traditional neighborhoods. But all of the 11 district council members who are eligible for re-election in 2003 are giving special consideration to keeping their own homes in districts likely to return them to office.

"We're worrying a lot about incumbency in this," said Finance Committee Chairman Jim Overton, who, because of term limits, cannot run for re-election. "A lot of the fights and a lot of the pain is because of that."

A proposed district in East Arlington, for example, has a boundary at Southside Boulevard, except for a narrow tendril that snakes west all the way to the St. Johns River. That tail pulls incumbent Lynette Self into the district.

Considering incumbency is entirely legal, as long as it is not the dominant motive in drawing lines, and experts said there are good reasons for it.

People want the continuity of staying with a member who has represented them in the past, and representatives will serve more efficiently in neighborhoods they already know and have worked with.

"Incumbency is not a dirty word," said Assistant General Counsel Virginia Norton, the committee's legal adviser. "A lot of people like their councilperson and like consistency, so it's protecting voters."

But members of the council's special committee on redistricting are learning that protecting themselves too aggressively can irk some voters.

Councilman Jerry Holland confronted that fact Tuesday night, when dozens of angry constituents lambasted him for proposed maps that split the three Beaches cities between two districts. While it is possible to draw a district that keeps Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach in a single district, it might be difficult to extend that district far enough west to capture Holland's home, which is west of San Pablo Road.

"I definitely feel that he is protecting his own interests," said Laura Patronik, one of more than 70 residents at Tuesday night's town hall meeting. "If he were not our representative we would not be facing a split at the Beaches."

She said coastal residents would unseat Holland if he sacrificed Beaches unity to protect his council seat.

Holland responded yesterday by asking consultants from Applied Mapping Inc., the committee's technical advisers for redistricting, to draw a version of the map that would unify the Beaches -- even at the expense of his incumbency.

"If we need to cut my side off, I'd be willing to do that," he said.

Under the current proposal, no two incumbents who are eligible for re-election would be drawn into the same district. …

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