MIAMI – Fresh off the heels of a court order stating Miami city commissioners’ second try at redrawing their electoral map failed to remedy “unconstitutional” racial gerrymandering issues, there are now questions over whether an incumbent commissioner will have to move or relinquish his seat.
On Sunday, a federal judge ordered the city adopt a map drawn up by the plaintiffs that he said passed constitutional muster and, unlike the previous maps, keeps neighborhoods largely intact.
The city had been sued by the NAACP and a number of other groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The new map forces commissioners to switch gears ahead of the November election and raising residency questions, but Monday evening, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay of the federal court order, halting the Miami redistricting litigation.
Local 10 News asked the Miami-Dade County Elections Department Monday evening how the administration stay impacts which voting map Miami-Dade Elections will utilize for Miami’s upcoming November election, since the stay requires a response by appellees, the case Plaintiffs, by Aug. 2, and per Sunday’s court order, “the date by which the Miami-Dade Board of Elections requires a map is August 1, 2023.”
This is a fluid situation.
Will Carollo stay in office?
Both the city’s existing electoral map and its ill-fated fix carved out a section of Coconut Grove, located mostly in District 2, and placed it in District 3. It was a point of contention between residents of the historic neighborhood and commissioners.
That commission-drawn carve-out contained the home of incumbent District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo. Under the new map, the controversial commissioner will reside out of his district.
Rejected commission-adopted map vs. court-ordered map:
Responding to questions over whether Carollo would be able to retain his seat while living outside of his district’s boundaries, Miami’s city attorney indicated that she believes he will remain in office.
“He (Carollo) was elected until 2025,” City Attorney Victoria Mendez told Local 10 News. “The caselaw we have looked at does not side with unseating an elected commissioner when the district is redrawn. Our Charter does not contemplate this type of scenario.”
Local 10 News contacted Carollo’s office seeking comment and had not heard back as of Monday evening.
Commissioners to run in new territory
The map also means incumbent commissioners will have to serve new constituencies. Under the city’s previous map, highly-conservative voters in the city’s Flagami area had weight in two districts.
Much of the territory of both District 1 and District 4 consisted of other neighborhoods to the east and south respectively, but both districts snaked west to grab a share of Flagami, roughly bisecting the neighborhood lengthwise between both districts.
The court-ordered map leaves Flagami intact and at the center of District 4, which also now includes the Grapeland Heights and Auburndale neighborhoods, instead of the southwestern Shenandoah and Silver Bluff areas.
Interactive map of new district, created by plaintiffs:
Manolo Reyes, who represents District 4, is now preparing to represent brand-new constituents.
“I will have to run on my record of what I have done someplace else” for half his district, Reyes told Local 10 News Monday, changing his status to a new candidate in those areas “for all practical purposes.”
Reyes said he was “committed to working as hard as I did in the new area as I did in the old area.”
The new map also means that the challenger to Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla in November’s election lives in District 1 again. Miguel Angel Gabela had accused commissioners of surgically carving out his home from the district in order to protect the incumbent.
The judge’s ruling Sunday did not touch on that accusation of political gerrymandering.
“(It’s) a great day for residents, a great day for my client, he gets to continue to run in the district he’s been preparing to run for for a year,” Gabela’s attorney, David Winker, said. “I don’t think a lot of us are surprised by the ruling, I mean there was a lot of shenanigans that went into it, it is the second time the city has tried to do a map that clearly has problems.”
Plaintiffs, advocates celebrate, but fight not finished
ACLU attorney Nicholas Warren called the ruling “a big win for racial justice and democracy in Miami.”
Coconut Grove resident Andy Parrish also celebrated.
“I would say the Grove took the lead it on it, because when they split off ‘little Bahamas’ form the Grove, they considered themselves Grovites through and through whether they are Black or white, and they were outraged,” Parrish said. “That is why we had hundreds of people coming down and speaking when they were doing this redistricting.”
But the fight over Miami’s maps isn’t over. Mendez said Sunday that the city intends to appeal the ruling.
“We appreciate the Court’s valuable insight into the City’s Redistricting process, but the court waited too long in making this determination pursuant to caselaw,” she said in a statement. “The court did not truly give the City Commission the presumption of good faith with regard to their legislative functions.”
Legal analyst David Weinstein weighed in on Judge K. Michael Moore’s ruling.
“The judge who considered this process went through a long series of hearings and considerations and wrote a very detailed order,” Weinstein said. “This is not something that was done by anybody’s seat of their pants.”
Weinstein said Moore, throughout the process, gave “the city an opportunity to respond and they failed to do so in a way that gives voters a meaningful opportunity to vote in the upcoming election.”
Under the judge’s ruling, the city was supposed to send the new map to Miami-Dade election officials Monday. As of Monday evening, that hadn’t happened yet. Officials confirmed they received the map from the ACLU, however.
The court later issued a stay Monday evening, preventing the map from being enacted for now.
“The City is pleased with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals acting swiftly to review Judge Moore’s order,” the City of Miami attorney told Local 10 News in a statement. “The Stay works to place a pause on the transmittal of the new map to the County Election’s Department. The City awaits further direction from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Read the court order: