The city’s future political map began to take shape at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s special redistricting committee Wednesday.
By city charter, aldermen must redraw the lines that define the city’s wards by a May deadline, and the special redistricting committee took public testimony Wednesday night on its first draft of a new ward map. While the current proposal brings the populations closer to the balance required by the charter, ensuring equal representation for each voter, the Board still has work to do before reaching its final plan.
In creating the proposed ward map, aldermen sought to balance the number of voters in each ward, which have shifted in the 10 years since the last census. By law, aldermen had to negotiate ward boundaries with one another until they could each represent a population within 5 percent of the target 4,326 people, the legally allowed deviation.
According to city corporation counsel Victor Bolden and former alderwoman Nancy Ahern, the city charter requires the Board of Aldermen to keep each ward within a single state legislative district “to the maximum extent feasible.” If the Board were to do so — given the recent movement of state legislative district boundaries — it would split Sarah Eidelson’s ’12 Ward 1, a change that would threaten to alter the character of the traditionally “Yale ward.” Made up almost entirely of Yale students, the current Ward 1 houses Old Campus and eight of Yale’s residential colleges.
Concern that Ward 1 would no longer be a Yale student-majority ward drove four members of the Yale College Democrats to testify before the special redistricting committee. Dems event coordinator Rebecca Ellison ’15, who said she cast her first-ever ballot in last fall’s Ward 1 aldermanic election, said that dividing the ward would dampen voter enthusiasm on campus and remove students’ voice in the city legislative process.
Dems treasurer Nicole Hobbs ’14, meanwhile, argued that the Ward 1 alderman, unhampered by traditional constituent concerns that are instead managed by the University, has a long history of bringing innovative policy initiatives to the Board, such as former Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones’ ’11 living wage expansion.
“Looking at the history of what’s been performed and the promise of Alderwoman Eidelson, it would be a detriment to the city to lose that voice,” Hobbs said.
The special redistricting committee also heard a letter from a constituent who asked aldermen to consider distance from polling places when redistricting, and testimony from Lisa Seidlarz, who testified that despite living in what is considered the East Rock neighborhood, she was formally a resident of Wooster Square’s Ward 8.
The map presented at the meeting was based off the committee’s negotiations at its March 29 meeting, and reduces the number of unbalanced wards from 21 to nine while lowering the average population deviation across all wards. But while most wards approached the correct numbers, others, like Ward 14, actually moved further away from the target population.
Ward 14’s population originally stood at 5,350, nearly 24 percent above the target — in the new map, its population increased to 6,295. Fixing this deviation, the largest of any ward in the city, was on the top of aldermen’s priority list Wednesday night.
Overall, the redistricting process reflects a general population shift towards the east, with the eastern neighborhoods of Fair Haven, Fair Haven Heights and Quinnipiac Meadows among those seeing the greatest population growth since 2000. Wards in the western neighborhoods of Dwight, Westville and West River, meanwhile, will all need to increase in size to compensate for their population decreases.
Ward 6 Alderman and committee chair Dolores Colón said the redistricting process would become more labor-intensive than it was in the past. After engaging in initial negotiations to equalize ward populations as best they could, she said aldermen on the committee would now need to strategize to move voters from western neighborhoods to those in the east, likely by coordinating among multiple wards.
By law, the Board must also do its best to take into account demographic factors like race and income, follow natural boundaries like large streets or parks, maintain the “core” of each ward and ensure each ward possesses a polling place. Aldermen are also seeking to avoid displacing any alderman’s residence from his or her ward, forcing that alderman to move in order to be eligible to continue representing the ward.
The committee will take into account Wednesday’s testimony when designing the final plan, which it will complete in a private meeting before presenting it in its next public meeting on April 10. If aldermen do not meet their May deadline for approving a final redistricting plan, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will produce the new ward map instead.