As lawmakers signed off on a new citywide ward-boundary map, members of a tight-knit East Rock neighborhood found themselves politically exiled from East Rock—but still together.
That happened as the Board of Aldermen Monday night officially concluded its once-a-decade redistricting process with a unanimous vote to approve a new map. The decennial process is a legal obligation that keeps the city’s 30 wards relatively equal in terms of number of voters.
Remaking wards traditionally brings some give-and-take and Spirograph-style shapes. After weeks of work, aldermen found a satisfactory way to redraw the boundaries of each ward. The map will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The task of cartography fell to a special committee of aldermen, who held a number of public hearings. The most forceful public testimony at those events came from member of the SoHu Neighborhood Association, which comprises several blocks of homes south of Humphrey Street, between Orange and State Streets within the broader East Rock neighborhood. SoHu members had pleaded with aldermen to consolidate their group into one ward, to place it entirely within East Rock’s Ward 9 instead of being divided between Ward 9 and Wooster Square’s Ward 8.
Thanks to some 11th-hour negotiations by Ward 9’s Alderwoman Jessica Holmes (pictured) and others, SoHu got its wish—mostly—in the map that was finally approved Monday.
SoHu will now be all in one ward. But it’s Alderman Doug Hausladen’s downtown Ward 7, not East Rock’s Ward 9.
Alderwoman Holmes said she worked with her neighboring aldermen to make that happen. She also ensured that the Lincoln-Bradley area was joined with SoHu rather than split off into Dixwell’s Ward 22, as the committee draft called for.
“I am rather happy with tonight’s results,” said SoHu head Lisa Siedlarz, who had put together a petition to lobby for SoHu consolidation. “The map that passed tonight puts all of SoHu in one ward, ward 7, with over 1,000 votes in that mix. That means SoHu will have a strong voice at the poll.”
“We have excellent alder representation in Doug Hausladen. On top of that, we have developed excellent relationships with ward 9 alder Jessica Holmes, and ward 10 alder Justin Elicker. These three alders heard our concerns about the impact of ‘notching’ neighborhoods and worked very hard to make sure this didn’t happen again. I know they worked long and hard, speaking with other alders through out the city to redraw the ward lines while keeping their constituents best interests at heart. We applaud their hard work.”
Next Stop Oshkosh
Not everyone was pleased with the map. Rae Tramontano, the Republican registrar of voters, showed up at a public information meeting before the full board meeting Monday to sound a note of caution. The new map does not consolidate wards within state assembly districts, she told aldermen. That could mean added complications for voters on federal and state election days, she said.
Ward 1, for instance, will have pieces of two different state Senate districts and two different General Assembly districts. That could mean the ward would have to open several different polling places when there is a Senate and a House race in one year.
“We’re not in compliance with the state statute” on redistricting, Tramontano told aldermen.
Board President Jorge Perez disagreed. He said the statute just requires people to do the best they can to consolidate wards within assembly districts. It’s impossible to do that perfectly in a city with 30 wards, he said.
Hill Alderwoman Dolores Colon (pictured), head of the redistricting committee, said people in her ward are used to having multiple polling places.
“It’s a necessary evil due to the lines this time around,” she said, referring to the assembly district lines that were recently redrawn. “We didn’t make the state rep. lines.”
At any rate, wards that straddle district lines are not new. The current map has many of them—a total of 52 different polling place configurations, Tramontano said. She counted 55 configurations under the new map. (That’s a higher number than she told aldermen during the public information hearing, when she hadn’t yet counted them all.)
In the past, the state has given the city permission to consolidate some of those polling places even if that means people traveling to another ward to vote for their state senator or representative. Tramontano said she hopes to do that again.
Reducing the number of polling places saves the city money by reducing the number of poll workers it needs to hire. But it also makes voters travel farther to fill out their ballots, Tramontano said. “I don’t want them to have to go to Oshkosh to vote.”
“Board President Jorge Perez disagreed. He said the statute just requires people to do the best they can to consolidate wards within assembly districts. It’s impossible to do that perfectly in a city with 30 wards, he said.”
It is impossible to manage anything with 30 wards—this is one of the best arguments for reducing the number of Wards I’ve ever seen.
The board needs to be professionalized and empowered if it is going to be meaningful in the lives of the people it represents.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 22, 2012 9:06am
Link to the final map?
posted by: Bruce on May 22, 2012 9:32am
Does the Ward 7 SoHu district include the south (even) side of Humphrey St? I would love to see the new map.
posted by: Curious on May 22, 2012 9:44am
Can someone please explain why we have 30 wards, and if it’s always been that way or if the number has grown?
posted by: robn on May 22, 2012 10:43am
Very amusing. Wards 21, 29 and 7 looks like they were designed by a Scottish greens keeper. The BOA could have just added a ward or two in Fair Haven and pretty much left the rest of the city alone, but as usual, petty powermongering and gerrymandering was the real focus of this exercise.
posted by: abg22 on May 22, 2012 11:22am
Between 1921 and 1967, New Haven actually had 33 wards (though it also had a higher population in that period than it does now). Beginning in 1966 there was a three-year battle in federal court to alter the ward boundaries which had been drawn up in 1921 and changed only once, in 1937. After several lawsuits and three different charter commissions, and an election in 1967 where aldermen were actually elected at large (another interesting issue to consider in charter reform), New Haven emerged with 30 wards in 1969. Interestingly one of the problems that New Haven ran into with the court was that the city had always nested wards into General Assembly districts, which was shown to have a discriminatory effect on minority populations and violated federal civil rights law. Wonder if Rae Tramontano is aware of that history.
In 1852 New Haven had 6 wards and a population of 20,000. In 1880 there were 12 wards with a population of 63,000. In 1888, there were 15 wards with a population of 85,000. As the city grew in both footprint and population in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the number of wards also expanded.
“The major shifts in ward structure occur in 1921 and 1967. Before 1921, there were fifteen wards (and an additional six at-large aldermanic seats on the Board of Aldermen). From 1921 to 1967, thirty-three wards, with no at-large aldermanic seats. In 1967, no wards were allowed as bases of election, and the Board of Aldermen was elected at-large. In recent years there have been thirty wards, with no at-large representation.” Douglas W. Rae. “Notes to Pages 279-291” in City: Urbanism and Its End (Yale University Press, 2003) p. 463
Urban renewal demolished the eastern half of the Wooster Square neighborhood and the Oak Street neighborhood, which changed the wards alot.
posted by: PH on May 22, 2012 2:03pm
Glad to see Wards 19 and 20 more sensibly split, but Ward 21 is just hideous.
It is high time to halve the number of wards and dispose of some of this gerrymandering nonsense.
posted by: HhE on May 22, 2012 2:59pm
1921 is sounding like a good idea, ward wise.
Thank you Jonathan Hopkins, for the history lesson. Everyone else, Douglas W. Rae’s City: Urbanism and Its End is a very good book, and I cannot recommend it too strongly to our residents.
At least we do not have the 230 members of Greenwich’s RTM.
Why is it that redistricting is done by the BOA and not by a Comittee of citizens? This smacks of chattel and powermongering. Many people in Eadt Rock wards have been stripped of continuity of representation.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 22, 2012 5:22pm
Significant mistake in Ward 7.
The new ward map says there are only 27 people in the block bounded by Orange-Church, Crown-George. But that block is home to the largest building in the 9th Square, i.e. 44 Orange Street, and that count must be off by at least several hundred people.
Alternately, the block bounded by Orange-State, Chapel-Crown, is reported to have 427 residents, which also has to be an error.
I’d like to see the city produce a ward map that embodies the ideal ward configuration based on urban development patterns, geologic features, business districts, policing strategies, schools, civic organizations, parks and residential areas. Then the city should pursue policies that will allow us implement that ideal map during the next redistricting process in 10 years. Policy changes would likely include modifying zoning in certain places to either encourage denser or less dense development, keeping the same density, more or less commercial development, more or less residential development, etc. The goal of wards should be to represent the semi-autonomous neighborhoods of this city that are a more local form of municipal government. They should be empowered to steer funding towards projects, and maybe even control how their constituents taxes are used rather than being lumped in a general city fund. If the city is going to seriously address our debt issues, we’re going to have to change how city government operates. The city needs to encourage civic orgnizations to step up and play a larger role in governing the city, same with special services districts (business districts), neighborhood parks groups (“Friends of [...] Park), etc. I think people would be surprised at how much funding could be collected locally for specific projects. One thing that rarely gets talked about is how much money residents in this city, particularly those in poor neighborhoods, give to religious organizations that fund exorbinant salaries of ministers who live in the wealthiest areas of the city (seriously its disturbing).
posted by: HhE on May 23, 2012 12:43am
Robn, I think you have answered your own question. The Barons do not have to give up their power, and with East Rock weakened, the King and his Barons can run unchecked.
I can take heart that my ward 19 is largely intact, but even that only really works because of the remarkable Alfreda Edwards.
There is an opportunity here to organize with fewer wards that are based upon neighborhoods (as Jonathan Hopkins wisely advocates), and possibly a handful of at large seats. I’m sure we will throw away that oopportunityjust like all the others.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 23, 2012 11:32am
Horribly flawed data to be coming from the US Census.
More mistakes: 1 person living on Yale’s freshman quad? 200 plus people living in the triangle in front of Ivy Noodle? Morse+Stiles+HGS=568 people, but Berkeley+Calhoun=729?
All told Ward 1’s population has to be north of 5000, whereas it’s supposed to be 4,326, +/- five per cent. (as if it matters.)
posted by: abg22 on May 23, 2012 5:39pm
A good history of the New Haven Board of Aldermen is Christopher Kutz’s “Democracy in New Haven: A History of the New Haven Board of Aldermen. New. Haven: City of New Haven, 1989.” Now a law professor, Kutz was a legislative aide at the Board of Aldermen at the time he wrote the book.
Jonathan Hopkins, Completely agree. Do our local elections use some kind of electoral college that mandates these lines? Communities can’t rise to fight for their interests if their interests are forced into diversification by imaginary boundaries.
And by that same token, since we constantly use our prized education system as a beacon for promoting cultural diversity, why aren’t we bussing people from Fairhaven to Westville to vote?