Sunday, January 11, 2015

Public Response to the First Map

The public gave its response to the first draft map for Aldermen by District on Thursday, January 8. Overviews of the meeting have been reported on by the Waterbury Observer and the Rep-Am, so I'll try to stay focused on some of what they didn't cover.

The first draft map was posted to the city website on Monday last week with no explanation; as a result, people were jumping to conclusions all over the city. The most common conclusion was that the map was rigged to protect two Democratic Aldermen. Accusations of gerrymandering came from all sides. I was hesitant to jump to that conclusion, however, since the map still had an overabundance of Democrats in two of its districts. I may be cynical at times, but jumping to the conclusion that one or two Aldermen had been able to rig the map for their exclusive benefit was too much of a leap for me. The map was pretty alarming, and some weird choices were made. My concerns were laid to rest at Thursday's meeting.

Now that I've heard the demographer, Dr. Peter Morrison, give his presentation, I can state with full confidence that the map will not be rigged, that there is no way that Morrison would ever allow his work to be corrupted by local politics, and that he will create a map that will be as good as we could ever hope to get. The city made an excellent choice in selecting Morrison to draw up the map.

Last week, I also heard from a few people who are upset about the credentials of the Commissioners selected to oversee the process. There appears to be some simmering discontent over the way in which they were selected. Frankly, at this point, I don't think that matters. While I do not personally know all of the Commissioners, the ones I do know are above reproach. They care about this city, and they care about doing what's right. They all listened closely to what the public had to say at the meeting last week, and they were in complete agreement with what was said. I see no reason for anyone to question their integrity or their suitability for the job.

As I've said before, the bottom line is this: no matter what the district boundaries end up being, this is an opportunity to change "politics as usual" in this city. Start thinking about who in your community would be a good Alderman. Start discussion within neighborhood associations and other community groups about how to become involved with the new system. The more people are involved in the electoral process, the better our government will be. Sitting around complaining about what's already happened accomplishes nothing.

Morrison's Presentation

Dr. Morrison clarified a number of important things on Thursday. (His slideshow can be accessed on the city website in PDF format.)

The "first draft map" was never intended to represent a possible final map. Morrison's first concern was to protect the city from lawsuits related to federal voter protection laws. He used data showing where our two groups of minorities (blacks and Hispanics) live, and drew up districts that would withstand any accusation of violating federal law.

Demographic data presented by Dr. Morrison at Thursday's meeting.
Current deviation is 7.74%. It needs to be below 10%; Morrison wants to get it down to 5%.

Morrison drew the districts with no regard for neighborhood boundaries, which, as we all know, caused pretty much everyone in the city to freak out. Morrison explained in his presentation that he has a map of neighborhood boundaries, and that, in most cases, it will be very simple for him to modify his first draft map to respect the neighborhoods.

Slide from Morrison's presentation, showing an example
of where changes can be made to keep neighborhoods intact.

Larry Rifkin interviewed Morrison on WATR Friday morning. It was interesting to hear Morrison's response to Waterbury. He was impressed by how unified we were in our defense of our neighborhood structure (the technical term being "communities of interest"). I've heard it said before that Waterbury is a city of neighborhoods, and I'm certainly aware of how each neighborhood has unique characteristics, but it was eye-opening to hear an outside demographer describe this as something that makes Waterbury different from other cities.

Morrison pointed out that because the black and Hispanic speakers at Thursday's meeting expressed a primary concern for keeping neighborhoods intact, he would be able to loosen up his initial plan for two of the districts. In other words, what Morrison heard from the people of Waterbury is that keeping neighborhoods intact is more important than any other consideration.

Rep. Butler's Plan

During the public speaking portion of Thursday's meeting, State Rep. Larry Butler recommended throwing away Morrison's first draft map and instead use the state legislative map from 2000, back when the city's five legislative districts were located solely in Waterbury (as opposed to now, when the 71st district includes Middlebury). Butler's plan was endorsed by two of the Commissioners immediately following the public speaking, and the Commission voted to instruct Dr. Morrison to create a map based on the old legislative map. It will need to be tweaked to reflect the most recent demographic data.

Map submitted to the Redistricting Commission by Rep. Larry Butler.

What Happens Next

Dr. Morrison will draw up three maps, one of which will be based on Rep. Butler's proposal. The three maps will be discussed at the next public hearing, on Wednesday, January 14. As with the last meeting, if you care at all about this, please plan on attending. If you can't attend, I assume it will be broadcast on our cable access channel, and you will be able to view the maps on the city website. You can also submit your comments through the city website.

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