Aldermen struggle to define wards

At a special committee meeting Thursday evening, aldermen failed to achieve consensus on changes to ward boundaries necessitated by the city charter.
At a special committee meeting Thursday evening, aldermen failed to achieve consensus on changes to ward boundaries necessitated by the city charter. Photo by Nick Defiesta.

Aldermen are struggling to determine the shape of New Haven’s wards ahead of a fast approaching deadline.

A special committee of the Board of Aldermen considered three different ward maps at a Thursday evening meeting at Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, the latest in a series of meetings held in an effort to equalize populations across the city’s wards. The committee was unable to come to a consensus during the meeting, and if they do not agree upon a final ward map by May, the redistricting project will be taken out of their hands — and into Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s.

By city charter, the Board must redraw lines between the city’s 30 wards every decade, based on updated U.S. Census population figures. In redrawing the wards, aldermen must keep each ward’s deviation from the target population within 5 percent, while taking into account factors like natural boundaries, “historical districts,” the racial and economic makeup of each ward and the locations of each alderman’s residence.

The revised ward map will reflect a general population shift within the city toward the east, with the eastern neighborhoods of Fair Haven, Fair Haven Heights and Quinnipiac Meadows among those seeing the greatest population growth in the past decade. Wards in the western neighborhoods of Dwight, Westville and West River, meanwhile, will all need to increase in size to compensate for a decrease in their populations.

For the past month, aldermen have tried to create a map that all 30 aldermen support while complying with all the legal constraints facing them.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, Priti Mathur of ARCBridge Consultants, the Virginia-based firm assisting the Board with its redistricting efforts, reported that the Board’s plan resulted in a population deviation of 30 percent, three times the legally allowed limit.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way left to go,” Mathur said.

She stressed that the Board’s map was a “work in progress,” and aldermen set about making further changes to the map. After exchanging a few blocks between wards, the committee completed a map that complied with the deviation limit.

But Ward 13 Alderwoman Brenda Jones-Barnes said she was unhappy with the Board’s final map because it separated her ward from parts of her neighborhood, Fair Haven Heights. But further negotiating failed to address her concerns, leading Ward 6 Alderman and committee co-chair Dolores Colón to plead with fellow aldermen to accept certain changes to their wards.

“[During the fall campaign] you proved that you could meet people, talk to them and convince them to support you,” Colón said. “I have faith that you will knock on new doors and make new friends and everything will be kumbaya.”

Mathur then introduced two other possible maps to the Board. In one map, a new ward would be created in eastern New Haven while a ward in the western part of the city would be destroyed. The second plan, meanwhile, was created by computer to balance each ward’s population while ignoring certain aldermanic requests.

The first plan received little support from aldermen besides Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 since it would involve destroying a ward, which would likely displace an alderman. The second plan received more support, since it tended to preserve the current shape of most wards.

While early in the redistricting process, Yale’s Ward 1 appeared likely to be divided into three parts so that it did not straddle three different state legislative districts, all three plans currently under consideration maintain the core of the ward. Ward 1 will likely expand to the east, taking the block bordered by Elm and Orange Streets to raise its population to the legally permitted range.

After over two hours, Board of Aldermen President and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez suggested aldermen adjourn the meeting and take a closer look at the proposals at the special committee’s next meeting. Aldermen will have to work fast, he said, to create a final proposal before May, lest the mayor dictate the city’s new ward map.

“We’re running out of time,” Perez said. “We gotta send something to the Board by [its] first meeting in May.”

The population within each ward must be within 5 percent of 4,326, the target population which would exactly equalize the size of all 30 wards.

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