The proposed redistricting map would split Lynchburg. Most of the city would be in the 6th District (in dark gray) but the city's majority Black neighborhood (in light gray) would get moved into the 5th District. Map courtesy of Virginia Public Access Project.

A city official from Lynchburg asked the Virginia Redistricting Commission to make changes to a new map currently under consideration that would split the city between two congressional districts. Under this bipartisan proposal, most of the city would remain in the 6th District, but a large chunk of the southeastern part, including a slice of Ward 2 – which was created as a majority-minority district – was drawn into the 5th District. Chris Faraldi, a member of Lynchburg’s city council, is concerned the map might violate the federal Voting Rights Act. 

“How such a congressional split exists, after an outcry for keeping Lynchburg whole for weeks and (prior to the deadline for the commission) all drafts for state legislative maps had the city together, in addition to the great lengths the body has taken to ensure minority communities are not improperly represented, is all supremely peculiar,” Faraldi wrote in a comment on the commission’s website. “Surely this is noted by the commission, seen as wrong, and fixed on Monday.”

A densely populated majority Black neighborhood, Ward 2 is home to Downtown Lynchburg, including several sites representing Lynchburg’s African American history, such as the Anne Spencer House on Pierce Street, once the home of the Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer, the Legacy Museum on Monroe Street, and the Virginia University of Lynchburg, a historically Black college. According to the 2020 census, 17,983 residents live in the ward, with a minority population of 63.2%, among them 57.9% are Black.

The split cuts the Kemper Street-Campbell Avenue corridor, as well as portions of Florida Avenue, Poplar Street and Winchester Street, out from the rest of the city and places them into the 5th.  (The Virginia Public Access Project has interactive maps; zoom in to see the split.)

Faraldi, who represents Ward 4, has been tracking the proposals from Richmond regarding redistricting for the House of Delegates, state Senate, and House of Representatives. When he first saw the map, he was stunned. “I was shocked when the attorneys, commissioners, and map drawers skipped right over the split,” he said of Thursday’s meeting of the commission, where members first discussed congressional maps. 

In a letter to his fellow city council members, Faraldi, who is a Republican, wrote that he believed it would be “likely unconstitutional or in violation of the Voting Rights Act to split this area of the ward as it was drawn federally in 1972 (with slight adjustments thereafter), to ensure the ability of those communities to elect candidates in a block, should they wish to do so.”

 Local districts, he continued, “are not being used while drawing maps, but the folks who live in Ward 2 do not deserve to be diced apart in this way.”

Lynchburg Mayor MaryJane Dolan did not respond to calls and emails Friday, but two weeks ago she also left a note in the commission’s comment section – albeit in relation to the redrawing of General Assembly maps – urging the panel to leave Lynchburg whole. “It is just stunning to think that two city residents of the same ward could have different representatives in Richmond,” she wrote, adding that “a city our size with four wards and 18 precincts resulting in four different ballots is not only costly but totally ineffective.”

Neal Sumerlin, a professor emeritus at the University of Lynchburg who has been involved in a civic movement to keep the city whole, called the map “a pretty obvious attempt to create some sort of racial balance at the expense of a clearly distinct community of interest.” A community of interest is a neighborhood, community, or group of people who have common policy concerns and would benefit from being maintained in a single district. Lynchburg, Sumerlin said in an email, “is an independent city, and pretty much all of its important institutions are separate from anything in the surrounding counties.” 

But Henry Chambers, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond School of Law, said on Friday that he did not believe that the proposed map violated the Voting Rights Act, because both districts are firmly Republican, and the split wouldn’t change that. The 5th District is represented by Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County, and the 6th by Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County. “With the congressional districts, it doesn’t matter where that place goes. If you placed that portion into the 6th District, it would get a little more minority, and the 5th would get a little less,” Chambers said.

However, the proposed map would break up a community of interest, which could open the door to something else, Chambers said. “If this map gets approved, some folks might argue that if Lynchburg is already broken up for congressional districts, it might be broken up for General Assembly districts sometime in the future,” Chambers said. 

The proposed map can be viewed on the Virginia Redistricting Commission website. The panel accepts comments over the weekend and will continue to discuss the map on Monday.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.