There’s a bumpy road ahead concerning redistricting the ward boundaries in Minneapolis.
Last time around (n 2002), we ended up with a really long Ward 7 that stretched from Elliot Park to to Kenwood with the “Gold Coast” along the river thrown in for good measure. This lavish award of some of the most prosperous parts of the city to one “super ward” had the effect of removing areas along the river that were of great value to an increasingly beleaguered Ward 5 in Near North, of stripping downtown areas from Ward 3 and replacing them with much less stable areas along the west bank of the Mississippi north of the Gold Coast. In Ward 2, this revision meant breaking up a coalition of East Bank neighborhood groups in the vicinity of the University of Minnesota campus who had achieved significant bargaining power with that institution. Over their strenuous objection, I must say. Elsewhere in Ward 2, this meant running a ward boundary through the middle of the Cooper neighborhood, putting the northern half in Ward 2 and the southern half in Ward 9. Ward 9 also acquired precincts in Phillips that meant a ward boundary that ran through the middle of the Native American settlement area.
Well, nobody’s perfect. Redistricting is always a messy process because inevitably taking from one means giving to another. There are some major factors at play here. Politically, the results of the 2002 redistricting meant that the incumbent city council members in the four corners of the city were left essentially undisturbed while the wards around downtown were hammered so that the downtown ward would be very robust indeed. Economically speaking, the areas with the weakest economic clout in the “first ring” of wards and precincts surrounding the central business district were taken to the cleaners while the most prosperous parts of the city got even greater clout. In terms of Race and Ethnicity, adding much of Kingfield to Ward 8 set the stage for an electoral outcome that disadvantaged a long-standing settlement of African-American homeowners east of 35W in South Minneapolis. More significantly IMHO there was virtually no recognition given to the rapid growth of Latino and East African populations and businesses that have come to dominate a broad swath along either side of Lake St. bounded to the west by the pricey environs of Uptown and on the east by the high-value properties along the Mississippi.
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A determined and broadly-based effort to do better with the decennial redistricting obligations driven by the US Census results has been “growing like Topsy” in our fair city. To date, the City Council has suggested that the Minneapolis Charter Commission would be better at this responsibility than a small group of highly factionalized Redistricting Commissioners appointed by the political parties. The Charter Commission has embraced this idea and come up with a radical revision of the Minneapolis Charter – the document rather like a constitution that defines what’s what and that supercedes ordinances and administrative practices. Granted the State Legislature is the ultimate authority for home-rule cities like Minneapolis, the City Charter is the fundament – the playing field for everyone public and private.
This means a substantial change in how we conduct our affairs and such big-ticket items have to be agreed to by the electorate. We voted in favor of IRV recently, you may recall, but we didn’t think wiping out the Board of Estimate and Taxation was such a good idea. We’ve also tinkered with the independent Park Board and our School Board.
The Legislature in its wisdom decided that Redistricting must take place in 2011, not 2012. The Census results will be available sometime this fall. State-level activity will rearrange the Congressional Districts and the 201 district boundaries of the Minnesota State Senate (n = 67) and the Minnesota House of Representatives (n = 134). Then it will be the turn of the smaller units of government to get on with adjusting the internal boundaries of their jurisdictions. Counties don’t do this. They are enshrined in constitutional language. Some municipalities experience little population change from decade to decade. But the big fish – the Twin Cities in particular – swim in much more volatile waters and so their revisions have greater meaning for their residents, whether citizens or not. The Census counts heads, not birth certificates. We are, after all, a nation of, by, and for immigrants and their descendents saving only our treaty-based relationships with the original inhabitants – the only truly native Americans – that were already settled in when the first explorers arrived on the shores of the North and South American continents.
Minneapolis redistricting is no “eventual” process. The Charter Commission is meeting this very week on Wednesday, July 7, at 4:00 pm in the City Council Chambers, Rm. 317 City Hall, to take one final look at the revisions that have been crafted and reviewed to date. These are the work product of many skilled people in our governing bodies, our city attorney, our elections folks in the City Clerk’s office, and designed with national “best practices” in mind as suggested by Common Cause, the Minnesota League of Women Voters, and, I trust, academic and other informed sources as well. Here’s a link to the proposed changes:
There’s also commentary on Minneapolis Issues.
Next steps include referral of the final draft document to the City Council who will then arrange with the City Clerk to have this change put before the voters in November in the form of a binding referendum.
I support this effort BTW. I was a redistricting commissioner representing the Green Party members of the City Council in 2002 and it wasn’t much fun. Plus there was a gnarly lawsuit aferward that left some pretty serious handwriting on the wall about de facto gerrymandering. For the record, I’m also a product of the Geography Department at the University of Minnesota and my summa degree in 1993 has seen me through some troubled waters indeed in recent years.