Forum hears minority views on redistricting

by Tom Ford

During a Thursday night forum addressing the impacts of city-wide redistricting, Minneapolis residents and a city official demanded equitable representation of minority populations.

With several Minneapolis redistricting commission members in attendance, many people at the meeting – sponsored by the Minneapolis Urban League and the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – also questioned the availability of information regarding the redistricting process.

Triggered by 2000 U.S. Census figures, a redistricting commission – primarily composed of local political party representatives – will redraw ward boundaries for the next City Council elections.

The ward reconfiguration process attempts to account for population changes in Minneapolis by forming districts with approximately the same number of people, ensuring citizens have equal power at the polls.

Keesha Gaskins, NAACP political action chairwoman, said the city’s minority population has increased 1,500 percent since 1950 and now comprises more than 40 percent of Minneapolis residents.

Gaskins said those demographic figures justify at least six minority opportunity wards, defined by many as districts containing a minority population of 40 percent of higher. With a higher population in those wards, minority candidates are believed to have more electoral success.

Matthea Little Smith, a Minneapolis resident, said city political bodies currently don’t represent minorities.

“Forty percent of people in the city are people of color, but we don’t have 40 percent in the City Council or redistricting commission,” she said.

Redistricting commissioner Lyall Schwarzkopf said he remains committed to creating between five and six opportunity districts. But he said such wards could only be created by cutting some neighborhoods between districts – something other commissioners want to avoid.

Some at the meeting said they are being excluded from the redistricting process.

Commissioners prepared and submitted four different ward proposals for a redistricting meeting held Monday, but did not initially distribute the maps to the meeting’s attendees.

City Council member Natalie Johnson Lee – currently the only minority council member – said she was saddened the commissioners
didn’t come prepared, demonstrating a lack of respect for the community being addressed.

Schwarzkopf said the members came to listen to residents’ concerns rather than to make any presentation.

Several members brought the proposals, and near the end of the meeting copies of the maps were made and passed around.

But commissioner Everett Pettiford said he didn’t bring the current plans because they are just preliminary.

The commission will finalize the ward boundaries in mid-April.