Whether Ward 1 remains the Board of Aldermen’s “Yale ward” may depend on how closely local politicians wish to follow the letter of the law.
Aldermen debated the rules governing the city’s redistricting process and began to redraw ward lines at a special committee meeting Thursday evening. By city charter, the Board must produce and pass a ward map every decade that equalizes each ward’s population — based on updated Census data — before a May deadline, but it faces a number of challenges.
Among them, warned Victor Bolden, the city’s corporation counsel, is the charter’s stipulation that each ward be contained within a single state legislative district “to the maximum extent feasible.” At a previous meeting, former alderwoman Nancy Ahern warned the committee that crossing state legislative district lines could cost the city an extra $30,000 for extra polling locations required by state law.
But Priti Mathur of ARCBridge Consultants, the Virginia-based group advising the Board on the redistricting process, said following that stipulation is possible but not necessary. She said she had drawn up a map that complied with it but featured radically different wards, a result she thought would not be acceptable to most aldermen.
The committee also debated whether they could change the total number of wards in the city. While Board President and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said aldermen had always believed the number of wards had to be changed through charter revision, Bolden informed the committee that they had the power to do so.
But neither following state legislative district lines nor changing the number of wards received much attention once the committee separated into groups by district to negotiate how to change New Haven’s political map. Some wards, like Doug Hausladen’s ’04 Ward 7, are close to the target number of residents and do not need to be changed. Others, like Ward 30 Alderman Carlton Staggers — whose ward is more than 1,600 below the target — must negotiate with other board members to end with a population within 5 percent of 4,326, the legally allowed deviation.
Some aldermen will have to give up key voters in the redistricting process. Ward 29 Alderman Brian Wingate, whose ward’s population is too high by 20 percent, was forced to cede blocks containing his supporters to neighboring Ward 28, which is 20 percent below the minimum.
And despite having the district nearest the ideal number of voters, Hausladen will have to give several blocks of his ward to Sarah Eidelson’s ’12 Ward 1, since her ward, which includes Old Campus and eight residential colleges, is below the minimum population threshold by nearly 10 percent. According to negotiations between Hausladen and Eidelson, Ward 1 will likely expand either south or east, possibly placing City Hall under Eidelson’s jurisdiction.
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 also seek 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. That point arose when Eidelson proposed expanding Ward 1 toward the southeast, where Hausladen lives.
“[Eidelson and I] live two blocks from each other,” Hausladen said. “I would offer to move, but I like my apartment.”
Overall, the redistricting process will reflect 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 the 2000 Census. 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.
The lines set by the committee members Thursday evening will be used to create an initial proposal to be discussed at the next committee meeting. The map will be debated and possibly edited further before the entire Board votes on a final proposal. If the Board fails to approve a plan in time, warned committee chair and Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colón, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will determine the ward map.
The next meeting of the special committee, when aldermen will reveal their proposal and hear testimony from New Haven residents, will take place April 4 in City Hall.