Green Party responds to redistricting with lawsuit

by Tom Ford

Calling for the rejection of new ward boundaries, two Minneapolis City Council members joined several residents in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city.

City Council members Dean Zimmermann and Natalie Johnson Lee, along with 13 other Minneapolis citizens, said the city’s redistricting decisions weakened the political power of the Green Party and minority communities.

The suit requested the Hennepin County District Court declare the recently established boundaries null and pursue one of three options. The court could either redraw the boundaries itself, require the current redistricting commission to redraw the boundaries or create a new redistricting commission.

Members of the commission – which established the new districts April 12 – defended their work and said the process was fair.

“There was no effort by anybody to stop Green Party members from winning elections,” said redistricting commissioner Lyall Schwarzkopf.

Schwarzkopf said the commission also worked hard to ensure balanced minority representation among wards.

“I think it’ll hold up in court,” he said.

Fifth Ward City Council member Johnson Lee, a Green Party member, said the new wards disenfranchise minorities and low-income residents.

The lawsuit alleges the new 5th Ward – which contains an 83 percent minority population – was formed to isolate black voters and limit their political voice in other areas.

“It was a map that did not take the conscience of the people to heart,” Johnson Lee said.

Sixth Ward City Council member Zimmermann, a Green Party member, said although the party receives large voter support in the city, it lacked adequate representation on the commission.

The nine-member commission contained one Green Party representative. The Republican and Independence parties – which have no elected city officials – had five representatives on the commission.

But the chairwoman of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which selected redistricting members, said city policy dictated that makeup.

Karen Dziedzic said Minneapolis voters in 1999 approved a change to the city charter requiring redistricting commissioners to come primarily from major state political parties.

She said that status was determined in the 2000 U.S. Senate race, in which the Green Party candidate did not receive enough votes in the city.

Beyond that requirement, Dziedzic said the charter commission did have the power to appoint additional members. But she said few Green Party members applied to join the redistricting commission and thus were not selected.

Shane Price, a plaintiff and Green Party member, called on community members to “push the agenda of righteousness and democracy forward.” Price said a legal fund has been established to finance the costs of the lawsuit.