Greens, critics call new district borders flawed

Tom Ford

The Minneapolis City Council boundaries recently approved by the city’s Redistricting Commission need to be changed, some council members said Friday.

Critics, calling for the council to reject the plans on the grounds they isolated minorities and low-income residents and attacked Green Party representatives’ electoral gains.

But other council members said they did not have the authority to take such an action and voted to approve the voting precincts in the city’s 13 wards.

Green Party council member Natalie Johnson Lee said the Redistricting Commission ignored concerns raised at public hearings and created a segregated city.

“We must take every opportunity to rectify what was done and to bring it to light and correct it,” Johnson Lee said.

Under the new boundaries, the 5th Ward, represented by Johnson Lee, loses some downtown areas and now includes some poorer northern neighborhoods.

Also, the new ward lines move 6th Ward Green Party council member Dean Zimmermann out of his ward and pair him with 9th Ward DFL council member Gary Schiff.

Zimmermann said the commission wanted to place Green Party members in areas where they would not likely be re-elected.

Johnson Lee made a motion to send the plan back to the Redistricting Commission for further hearings.

But the council ruled Johnson Lee’s motion was out of order, since precinct lines were the only issue members could address at Friday’s meeting.

In a 9-3 vote, the council established the precinct lines.

Redistricting Commission members rejected the charges leveled against their plan and expressed disgust at the opposition.

Todd Ferrara, a redistricting commissioner, said he was appalled when council member Schiff said all the commissioners were white. One commissioner, Everett Pettiford, is black.

“I think that is just a total insult and just shows you the blatant disregard for process that those City Council members have,” Ferrara said.

He said the redistricting process can’t solve the city’s racial or economic problems, which are issues the council must address. By blaming the commission for exacerbating those problems, he said, council members are ignoring their own shortcomings.

“The fact that people feel that we are responsible for contributing to the racial divide in our city just demonstrates a lack of leadership on racial issues,” Ferrara said.

Redistricting commissioner Lyall Schwarzkopf denied the plan was racist and said minority concerns were addressed throughout the process. He said the new boundaries provide greater chances for minorities to gain council seats.

He said the new map created six districts with minority populations totaling more than 40 percent. Four of those wards have a minority population of more than 50 percent. There were two such wards under the previous boundaries.

City Attorney Jay Heffern said the Minneapolis charter gave the Redistricting Commission authority to set ward boundaries.

He said the council can only determine precinct locations in the new wards, which had already been made official and will not be altered except through a successful legal challenge.

Council member Dan Niziolek said he acknowledged the reactions to the map and encouraged people to pursue options to rectify its problems.

He said although the council had to approve the precinct lines by Tuesday, citizens could still challenge the lines in district court.

Schiff, who voted against precinct approval, said the new map was designed to punish the Green Party and spur conflict in minority communities.

“Our hands may be tied legally, but my tongue will not be,” Schiff said.

Larry Leventhal, a Minneapolis lawyer, said the council dodged its responsibilities by not taking a stance on the ward plans.

“They should certainly observe that the plan is an outrage,” Leventhal said.

He said he expects a lawsuit challenging the new wards to be filed soon.

The city reconfigured ward lines to account for population changes as reflected by 2000 U.S. Census data. New boundaries, which contain approximately equal numbers of residents, will take effect in the 2005 council elections.

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