Following several months of discussion and two public hearings, the City Council voted last night to adopt a redistricting plan that reshapes council district boundaries in conformance with the 2010 Census. You can examine maps, demographics, and other information about the redistricting plan by linking to this PowerPoint presentation.
The plan meets several critical tests by: (1) equalizing population among districts, (2) enhancing opportunities for minority representation, (3) uniting the overwhelming majority of neighborhoods, and (4) increasing the average compactness of New Rochelle’s six districts. I commented much more extensively on the plan and on the redistricting process as a whole in this prior post.
Rather than re-state those earlier observations, let me offer today some new information and share a couple of concluding thoughts.
Legal Expert Affirms Consistency With Voting Rights Act
During the course of the debate over redistricting, some argued that the adopted plan failed to meet the tests of the Voting Rights Act. It was and remains my strong opinion that these arguments lacked merit and were motivated primarily by political intent. Nonetheless, such claims should not be dismissed casually, and the Council decided last week to clear the air by obtaining an independent legal opinion.
For this purpose, the City retained Randolph McLaughlin. Mr. McLaughlin is a well-known civil rights and voting rights attorney, with extensive relevant experience. Here in New Rochelle, Mr. McLaughlin was the chief advocate for the creation of council districts in the early 1990s, and he served as the lead attorney for the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the City’s last redistricting plan in 2003. Mr. McLaughlin’s expertise and history of advocacy in New Rochelle give him unique standing and credibility to opine on this matter.
On Monday, Mr. McLaughlin delivered a memorandum to the City Manager, in which he concluded unequivocally that the plans under consideration by the Council were “consistent with the requirements of Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act].” You can read the full memorandum here.
While some will continue to argue this matter, and while frivolous lawsuits are always a possibility, I believe that the McLaughlin opinion ends whatever serious debate existed on questions of law.
While I believe that the redistricting plan overall meets the tests of common sense and fairness, it certainly isn’t perfect. Meeting every objective is literally impossible, because many goals are in tension with each other. Therefore, the Council must set priorities and accept trade-offs, about which reasonable people can disagree.
While the plan unites almost all neighborhoods, two neighborhoods are significantly split: Residence Park and Bonnie Crest. In the case of Residence Park, we were able to work with neighborhood leaders to make some positive amendments, but these changes only partially addressed their concerns.
The folks in Residence Park and Bonnie Crest have a legitimate beef. My only response is that uniting these neighborhoods would have produced equally objectionable neighborhood divisions or population imbalances in other parts of New Rochelle. Although I stand by our choice, I feel an enhanced personal responsibility to ensure that these areas do not suffer any diminished quality of representation in the years ahead.
Now that the new lines have been approved, the County Board of Elections will need to work quickly to assign addresses to the right districts in time for the 2011 election process to begin. In addition, a public information campaign will be developed to make sure that voters are aware of their districts and to avoid any confusion when it comes to casting votes.
Glad It’s Over
To be clear, redistricting was a legal obligation. It is important to the basic structure of decision-making in our community, and it demanded the Council’s time and attention.
But I am glad it is over.
I have a strong sense that the issue of redistricting is of far greater interest to those immersed in the political process than it is to those with a more casual interest in politics. And the spectacle of Council Members squabbling over district lines at a time when New Rochelle faces significant challenges and opportunities did not place our City government in an especially favorable light.
Time to move on.