Saturday, May 21, 2011

Senators hear feedback on remap plan

By Jamey Dunn

Minority groups had mixed reactions to the Senate Democrat’s proposed legislative map as reform organizations called today for more time and information to review the plan.

Senate Democrats released their proposal for new legislative districts on Thursday and held their first hearing for public feedback on the map today in Chicago. Since Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor's office, they have the ability to control the process of redrawing legislative boundaries, which happens every 10 years after new census data is released.

Juan Rangel, chief executive officer of the United Neighborhoods organization, endorsed the map on behalf of the Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting. “We believe that the proposed map fairly balances changes in population and the stakes other communities have in the Illinois legislature,” Rangel said. “Revising the current district boundaries is a tremendous assignment with many moving parts.”

Members of the coalition were encouraged by the treatment of the Chicago neighborhood of South Lawndale, also known as Little Village, near Cicero, which was at one time split into four Senate districts. Under the Democrats’ plan, the predominately Latino community would be represented by one state senator.

However, the Hispanic community known as Back of the Yards, located on the south side of the city near the former location of Chicago’s storied stock yards — now an industrial park — would be split in half under the plan. “We are now asking you to allow us to be one voice in the eyes of the legislature,” said Jose Alonso, speaking on behalf of the Committee for a Unified Back of the Yards. “We are really only talking about blocks here. We’re not asking for a new district. We’re talking about blocks.”

C.W. Chan, executive director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said his organization was happy to see that Chinatown was relatively intact in one district under the map. He said about 90 percent of the community would be in the same district, though he noted, “We’re not getting everybody in.” Chinatown, which was split among five Senate districts under the last remap, according to the Asian American Institute, has become a high-profile example of a community of interest that has had its political power diluted. “Ten years ago, Chinatown was the most convenient victim of redistricting,” Chan said. He joined other representatives of the Asian American community in asking the committee to reconsider their proposal to split up some Asian communities in northern Cook County.

Overall, several representatives of the Latino community said lawmakers had not done enough to create more Hispanic majority and influence districts in light of the 32.5 percent Hispanic population growth in Illinois according to U.S. Census data.

“Our analysis indicates that Latino residents are being shortchanged by the current proposals,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum. She said more districts could have been created on the south side of Chicago, with Latinos representing over 65 percent of the voting age population. “They do not have to come at the expense of African-American majority districts.”

Members of several minority organizations said they continue to support the so-called Unity Map created by the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations.

Reform groups told lawmakers that they need to do more to inform the public about their methods for drawing the map, including releasing demographic and political information about the districts, as well as explanations for why the lines were drawn as they were under the proposal. Whitney Woodward, policy associate for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said legislators had months to analyze such information when drawing the map and said the public needs more details and more time before lawmakers take a vote. “We don’t see any reason to believe that the map released Thursday has put community interest above political interests.”

She called the fact that the public has not seen a proposal for a U.S. congressional map “unacceptable.”

“The public has not been invited to sit in the audience, let alone at the table,” Woodward said. “We know that you can do better than offering an unexplained map and two premature hearings.”

Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, the chair of the Senate Redistricting committee, said Senate Democrats plan to present a resolution explaining their proposal. Senate and House Redistricting committee have a joint hearing scheduled in Springfield at 9 a.m. Tuesday.  “We will take all comments and suggestions under advisement in the coming days,” Raoul said.

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