Ward map slated for final vote

Chris Kirkham and Chris Kirkham

Evanston City Council could end the five-monthlong battle over the city’s ward boundaries tonight, but last-minute revisions to the map last week could mean the redistricting debate is not over yet.

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) submitted an amended map Friday after talking with aldermen about problems they had with the original proposal.

“When we originally presented the map, there was some consternation,” Bernstein said. “Basically it’s a work in progress. It was never intended as a final.”

At the Nov. 3 Rules Committee meeting where the map was selected, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) voted against it because she said it took too many voters out of her ward.

Because the selected map was drawn considering total population rather than voting-age population, the number of eligible voters in each ward differs, as some wards have more youth than others.

Bernstein’s amended map would give the Eighth Ward about 100 more residents — more than half of them of voting age.

“The council felt that if she was concerned, there could be some very small tweaking that could address her concerns,” said Ald. Gene Feldman (9th), whose ward borders Rainey’s. “It’s not a significant, dramatic change in any ward. It’s very small.”

The map also makes minor adjustments between the First and Fourth wards as well as between the Fifth and Seventh wards.

City Manager Roger Crum said Bernstein’s amendments don’t need to be introduced separately, so the altered map could be approved tonight.

Though Bernstein said he thinks the map will pass, he said Thursday that he had heard Mayor Lorraine H. Morton might veto the map. In the event of a veto, a vote of six aldermen can overturn the mayor’s decision.

Morton has vetoed controversial decisions in the past, including a decision about the Evanston-Northwestern lawsuit. But Morton told The Daily she had no plans to veto the redistricting map — yet.

“I never said that,” she said, “but it’s a pretty good idea.”

Morton said the aldermen still have plenty of time to meet the redistricting deadline. The most recent ordinance says ward boundaries would officially change not on Nov. 2, 2004, the date originally proposed, but on April 5, 2005, the day of the next municipal elections.

But Evanston resident Mimi Peterson said she also questioned this change because it would undermine the integrity of the redistricting process.

“These are the kind of tactics that this City Council uses,” said Peterson, who ran unsuccessfully for Fourth Ward alderman in 2001. “It’s completely absurd yet also predictable.”

She said residents who are changing wards and want to run for alderman would be unable to register as a candidate in ward in which they do not yet live.

“If a person who currently lives in the Second Ward is changed to the Ninth Ward,” Peterson said, “they can’t run for alderman, because on that very day they would wake up in the Ninth Ward.”

But Feldman said people still could run in their new ward, even if they don’t live in the ward until Election Day. He said the date was appropriate because otherwise residents would be represented by aldermen they had not elected.

Despite the the map amendments and questions raised by Peterson, most aldermen are in agreement on at least one point: Though the map isn’t perfect, it achieved its goals.

“I understand at the end of the day that someone is going to be upset with the map,” Bernstein said. “Even if we waited two years, people wouldn’t be completely happy with it.”

After a series of public hearings and a slew of map proposals, the Rules Committee selected a map that aldermen said addressed two primary concerns: maintaining the black majorities in the Second and Fifth wards and not diluting the student vote among three wards.

“The various interests are not totally and fully satisfied, but they can go along with the compromise that was reached,” said Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd). “I really think this is a win-win for everybody.”

The selected map shifts much of the on-campus student population from the First to the Seventh Ward. This means four South Campus dorms — potentially 550 on-campus students — would change wards.

Associated Student Government leaders lobbied the council throughout the discussion to ensure their votes would not be diluted. Unlike black residents in the Second and Fifth wards, students do not constitute a “protected class” under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But Ald. Edmund Moran (6th), who also voted against the map on Nov. 3, said students do fall under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Evanston resident and lawyer Jeff Smith, whom ASG consulted about redistricting, said students will now have a more difficult time making their votes effective.

“It puts more students in the Seventh Ward, which is the highest turnout ward in the city,” he said. “Yes, students are given a ‘chance’ to elect the candidate of their choice, but only if they’re more effective in voter turnout than any other group in the city.”

Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th), however, said students matter. Though her ward would significantly change if the map is adopted, Tisdahl said some of her goals were achieved.

“All along my main objectives were to have two politically effective majority-minority wards and keep as many residents in the Seventh Ward as I could,” she said. “I succeeded in the first and failed in the second.”

And though the selected map was proposed by Jean-Baptiste just days before the Nov. 3 vote, Ald. Joseph Kent (5th) said he didn’t view the plan as a last-ditch effort.

“I felt like it was something that spawned from all the other ideas brought up,” he said. “I think if that outcry had happened, we could always fall back on the fact that it doesn’t have to be passed now.

“There’s always a lot of give and take.”

The Daily’s Jessica Gdowski contributed to this report.

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* Get a look at the redistricting map aldermen will consider