Cost-cutting may open redistricting plan to challenge

New Haven’s political landscape is set to change next fall under a newly approved and potentially controversial plan to redraw the city’s aldermanic wards.

Members of the 11-member redistricting committee praised the result this week as an exercise in political compromise. But some critics suggested that the plan could face a challenge in court because the committee entrusted the task to the City Plan Department instead of hiring a specialized consultant.

The city attempted to hire a consultant in February — as most large municipalities do — but could not find any firm willing to take on the task, said Donna Hall, a project manager in the City Plan Department. One city employee involved in the process said the relative inexperience and staffing limitations of the team that handled the task meant they could not perform many of the statistical analyses often done by a consultant.

But Corporation Counsel Tom Ude, the city’s top lawyer, said the plan appeared to be legally and politically acceptable.

“The work that city plan was doing was not what a consultant would have done,” Ude said. “Ultimately, whether there was a consultant or there was not — the final decision still would have rested with the Board of Aldermen.”

Ude said he did not see the need for a consultant, because the 11 members of the redistricting committee took their task “very seriously.”

“The principle underlying redistricting is trying to make each person’s vote count equally,” he said. “Each alderman or alderperson I spoke with understood what those principles were.”

Alderman Carl Goldfield, the vice chairman of the committee, said the process would have remained political in nature even if the city had hired a consultant.

“Chances are it would have been challenged anyway,” he said.

The redistricting process, which unfolds each decade after the city receives new census information, will affect all 30 wards. The most drastic changes will occur in the Hill neighborhood, which lost population, and downtown, which gained several hundred residents.

Yale’s own political scene may also change as a result of the new map.

Ward 7, which currently includes Pierson and Davenport colleges, will include no Yale dorms under the new plan. The ward will include less of the Hill neighborhood and more of downtown, bordering the New Haven Green along Chapel Street.

Ward 1 — the Yale political stronghold — will still include eight of Yale’s residential colleges and Old Campus.

Ward 22, which currently includes Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges and Swing Space, will see its potential Yale voter base grow even further, gaining Silliman and Timothy Dwight colleges from Ward 1.

Citywide, the demographics of the wards will roughly mirror the city’s overall racial and ethnic composition.

In 14 of the 30 wards, whites will constitute a plurality, meaning each will contain more white residents than members of any other racial or ethnic group.

Blacks will make up a plurality in 10 wards, and Hispanics will be the prevailing ethnic group in six wards.

Of the city’s 123,626 residents counted in the 2000 census, 53,723, or 43.5 percent, were white and 37.5 percent were black.

The new borders described in the plan will take effect with aldermanic elections next fall.

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