A specially appointed committee of 11 New Haven aldermen will begin immersing itself this month in one of the most political tasks in politics — redrawing the city’s ward boundaries.
Although New Haven’s population fell by almost 7,000 people between 1990 and 2000, significant growth downtown and several other internal population shifts will make the committee’s task relatively complicated.
The elimination of high-density housing projects in wards 22 and 18 means that those wards will necessarily grow in size while downtown’s Ward 7 — which gained 1,306 new residents — will shrink.
The city’s overall population dropped from 130,474 in 1990 to 123,626 people in 2000.
State and federal law and New Haven’s charter provide the committee with a rough blueprint for its six-month mission: Without significantly altering each ward’s current racial and ethnic makeup, the legislators must create 30 new wards of roughly equal population that do not cross the boundaries of newly redrawn state assembly districts.
“Redistricting is pretty much dictated by law and court cases,” said Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, a member of the committee. “And considering we have 30 aldermen, we don’t have a whole lot of room — to maneuver as people think we do.”
Under a provision in the city Charter, the redistricting committee must draw each new ward entirely within the boundaries of a state house district, so that residents in each ward can vote on the same slate of elected officials.
Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield, the committee’s vice chairman, said he and his peers would take three major factors into consideration — the charter mandate, population shifts within wards, and preserving the wards of incumbents who live close together.
“We don’t want to create fights between aldermen,” he said.
Perez said that Ward 7’s 30.5 percent population growth reflected the near completion of the renovation of Ninth Square.
Long-vacant buildings in the area, bordered on the west and east by Church and State streets and on the north and south by Chapel and George streets, are finally beginning to draw tenants, he said.
“We have a large influx of people downtown we didn’t have 10 years ago,” Goldfield said.
After each new decennial census, New Haven must wait for the state Legislature to reapportion its districts, before the city can begin the task of redrawing its own. After months of delay, the state Supreme Court finally forced a committee of state legislators to finish the redistricting job last November, leaving the Board of Aldermen six months to come up with a plan for the city.
If the committee does not accomplish its task within the time frame, the job falls to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — which Goldfield said is “something no one wants.”
Goldfield said the City Plan Department will present the committee with a series of possible new ward configurations within the next two weeks.
“We really are just at the very beginning of this thing,” he added.