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When census data showed a net population growth of only 247 in Evanston, far below a threshold that would have required City Council to redraw ward lines in the City, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, each said she said, “Hallelujah!” A shift of just 0.33 percent does not trigger a required redistricting, even if variations between ward populations are actually greater than they were ten years ago, said Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar.
Most City Council members agreed that the small shift was not enough to warrant engaging in the “painful” and inherently political process of redrawing ward lines. Only Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, argued in favor of redistributing populations more evenly among the wards.
The census numbers show that the Ald. Wynne’s Third Ward increased the most, by 545 people, about half of them children, and 227 over the age of 18. This growth was attributed to new developments along Chicago Avenue since 2000. The Third’s growth was not enough to catch the Sixth, which remained the City’s most populous ward at 8,952, up 389.
Ald. Burrus’ 9th Ward shrunk by 435 since 2000, with Ann Rainey’s 8th Ward close behind, with a loss of 392 people. As a result, the spread between the most populous (Sixth Ward) and least populated (Ninth Ward) grew to 1,350 from 711 (between the Sixth-Ward high and the Fifth-Ward low).
The average ward had about 8,275 at census time. The Sixth, Third and Seventh wards all significantly exceed average, at between 8,702 and 8,952. The First, Eighth and Second are all right about average. The Fourth, Fifth and Ninth wards have below-average populations.
No ward grew by more than 6.6 percent and no ward shrank by more than 5.4 percent, as compared to 2000. Mr. Farrar, citing the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court decision Baker v. Carr, said “ripples do not require redistricting.” Ald. Jane Grover, 7th Ward, framed the question about the City Council’s wishes, asking whether, given the fact that Council was not required to redraw, they would like to anyway. Most said no.
Ald. Burrus called for tweaks to the map, to even out zigs and zags and make a more cohesive and logical political landscape. “If we could make it overall better for our residents, I would like to do that,” she said. She then asked if it would be possible to make minor adjustments to the map without opening the process up to a full scale redistricting.
The answer seemed to be no. Mr. Faraar said the redistricting “lends itself to an open process. Ald, Wynne agreed, saying that it is not possible to tweak a map without inviting the public into the process. And opening this up to a public, months-long exercise is something few appeared willing to consider.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “I’m all for saying we just leave it like it is.” She called the last redistricting process, in 2003, “very, very painful” and “a nightmare.”
Ald. Rainey said flatly, “I do not support redistricting,” adding later, “We cannot spend time on this.”
Ald. Wynne said that when she learned the change was below the threshold requiring redistricting, she said, “Hallelujah! …”I say we just leave it alone. “
But Ald. Grover returned to the idea of tweaking. Software allows a quick shift and chances to play with the map, and smaller increments along alley lines rather than full blocks make it even easier, said Steve Griffin, the City’s director of community and economic development. Ald. Grover asked Mr. Griffin if staff had played around with the maps.
“It is not something we want to take the lead on,” he said, with an expression that appeard he would not touch this with a ten-foot pole. “I learned my lesson.”
Mayor Tisdahl echoed Ald. Wynne’s “hallelujah. “I do not believe this is a process that is designed for what is best for the residents,” she said. “It’s a political issue.” Council could better spend its time on other things, she added.
Alderman Mark Tendam, of the population-bloated 6th Ward, said that while he had the most people, his ward did not have buildings, a downtown, transit, and other “stuff” that other wards dealt with. There’s more to a ward and its challenges than just people, he said, in agreeing that redistricting was not necessary.
Ald. Burrus said she was disappointed, and that the Council seemed to shy away “because it’s easier for us.” Nevertheless, unless something changes, it appears as if Council will not be opening this issue in the near future.