City Council panel approves tentative redistricting plan

by Tom Ford

Current Minneapolis ward boundaries would not change drastically under a tentative plan approved Tuesday by the city’s redistricting commission.

The plan did not receive unanimous support among the nine commission members. Three members voted for an alternative proposal by the Minneapolis National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which places more emphasis on increasing minority representation.

The reconfiguration process – triggered by 2000 U.S. Census figures – attempts to account for population shifts in Minneapolis by creating wards with approximately the same number of residents, ensuring citizens are equally represented.

Redistricting commissioner Rick Stafford said the plan the commission adopted will reduce voter confusion.

“Moving members out of their wards would totally change the flavor of what people know,” Stafford said.

The preliminary plan creates six minority opportunity wards, which can be considered districts with a more than 40 percent minority population. These areas often provide minority candidates greater opportunities for electoral success.

Stafford said the plan also splits seven neighborhoods across multiple wards.

He said while he wants to see changes in the plan before final approval, the proposal is acceptable as a starting point.

But commissioner Lyall Schwarzkopf disagreed.

Schwarzkopf made a motion to approve the NAACP plan, which established seven minority opportunity wards and cut three neighborhoods between districts. Two other commissioners voted for the NAACP ward configuration.

Schwarzkopf said he opposed the plan the commission accepted because it inadequately addressed issues of minority opportunities and neighborhood protection.

He said now it will be more difficult to avoid or mitigate those effects.

Keesha Gaskins, Minneapolis NAACP political action chairwoman, said the commission’s vote seemed to be motivated by a desire to protect incumbents’ district lines. She said the decision comes at the expense of a true representation of Minneapolis residents through wards that adhere to neighborhood and geographic boundaries.

“Clearly that’s not what the commission was interested in,” she said.

Minneapolis residents will get a chance to respond to the tentative plan at a public hearing April 11.

The following day, the commission will finalize the city’s new ward boundaries – which will be in effect for the next City Council elections, scheduled for 2005.

Tom Ford covers City Hall and welcomes comments at [email protected]