Challenge likely for final redistricting plan

It’s the closest thing city government has to musical chairs.

The redistricting plan approved by an appointed commission last week will create some unusual dynamics in Southwest wards. For example, one ward (8th) has no current councilmember living within its new boundaries — that representative is pushed into the 6th Ward… whose incumbent is bounced into the 9th Ward along with its current councilmember.

And that’s not even the controversial part of the redistricting plan. Green Party representatives, including Ward 6 Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (who was re-districted into Ward 9), said the make-up of the Redistricting Commission didn’t reflect that of city government.

The nine-member Commission wound up with three Republicans and two Independence Party members; the two parties have no representatives on the council. Meanwhile, the Green Party, with two of 13 councilmembers, had only one redistricting commissioner.

Zimmermann and Green Party colleague Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) say the results reflect that tilt: Zimmermann is paired with 9th Ward DFLer Gary Schiff, and Johnson Lee is drawn into a district that lost influential downtown districts and would be 82 percent minority, by far the highest percentage in the city.

Is it likely the plan will be challenged in court? "Absolutely," said Zimmermann. "There was blatant bias in the construction of the plan. The plan was drawn quite purposefully to compromise the Green Party," he said.

Zimmermann said the plan, finalized by the Redistricting Commission on April 18, differed significantly from the original proposal that went through a public comment process. The original map kept one incumbent in each ward, he said.

"We listened to the public," said Commission chair Parker Trostel, a CIDNA resident. "Is it highly messy and highly political? You bet," she said.

"My bottom line is, does it follow the law? It does."

Barring a successful legal challenge, the new wards will take effect with the next election, scheduled for 2005. But in the meantime, the specter of councilmembers redistricted out of their wards brings up a sticky issue: just whom do they represent? The city charter says a councilperson elected from one ward can go on representing that ward until the next election even if they no longer reside in that ward because of redistricting. But will their

allegiances stay with their old ward if they can’t run for re-election there?

Time, as the saying goes, will tell.

Here’s a rundown of what redistricting will do to Southwest wards:

Ward 6 This ward contains all of Whittier; however, current Ward 8 councilmember Robert Lilligren found his west Phillips home here, too. Current Ward 6 councilmember Dean Zimmermann, an east Phillips resident, was drawn into what will be Ward 9.

Zimmermann said he is considering moving. "What are my options?" he said. "I can either stay in the frying pan or jump into the fire."

He believes he could win in either Ward 9 or 6, but doesn’t look forward to the notion of running against Lilligren or Schiff, who have been "wonderful additions to the Council," he said.

If Zimmermann moves back into Ward 6, he will almost certainly face Lilligren, who said he has no plans to move. "Oddly enough, I’ve only ever lived in (the new) 6th Ward," Lilligren said.

Ward 7 This ward picks up about 15 percent of downtown that was split among other wards, keeps Kenwood and Bryn Mawr, and loses East Isles, Lowry Hill and CIDNA. Loring Park resident Lisa Goodman is the current 7th Ward representative and lives in the new ward.

Ward 8 With Lilligren drawn out and staying put, this re-configured ward is now essentially an open seat.

"It’s disappointing to me to be separated from the communities of the 8th Ward," said

Lilligren, adding, "I will be representing them, to the best of my ability."

The new 8th ward includes two-thirds of Kingfield. Steve Jevning, Kingfield board member, is a bit concerned about having a representative who lives out of the ward. A bigger issue for some in Kingfield is that the rest of the new 8th is east of I-35W. Jevning said that in the past, it was difficult to get attention from a councilmember whose majority of constituents live "across

the freeway."

Some of those neighborhoods, such as Central, have higher levels of poverty. "When you’re in a neighborhood that maybe doesn’t have as many needs as another neighborhood, and you’re grouped in a ward with communities that have enormous needs, chances are pretty good that no councilmember, regardless of intent and ability and intellect, is going to be able to represent your neighborhood as well," Jevning said.

Lilligren disagrees. "Kingfield has a fair amount in common with Field and Bancroft," he said of other 8th ward neighborhoods. Like Kingfield, those neighborhoods are "very politicized."

Tenth Ward councilmember Dan Niziolek, who lost much of Kingfield in the re-districted plan, said it was "a big loss."

Ward 10 The ward retains CARAG, ECCO, Lyndale and most of East Harriet. While losing Kingfield, 10th Ward councilmember Dan Niziolek would pick up CIDNA, East Isles and an eastern strip of Lyndale.

"What it does is bring greater diversity to the ward," Niziolek said. "It’s a nice, compact ward – the best ward in the city."

Ward 11 DFLer Scott Benson would keep Tangletown, Windom and the southwest part of Kingfield.

Ward 13 The 13th ward – represented by independent Barret Lane — changed the least of any in the Southwest, picking up a few homes in the Rose Garden area of Lake Harriet.