One ward for Downtown?

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April 2, 2002 // UPDATED 1:17 pm - April 30, 2007
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

Now split three ways, Downtown could have a single councilmember after

redistricting -- but some think that's a bad thing

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis Redistricting Commission is expected to unveil their map of the city's new City Council ward lines. Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee doesn't want to lose the Downtown part of her 5th Ward -- most of the residential riverfront, everything west of Hennepin -- but fears she will.

"I've heard Lisa Goodman wants all of Downtown," said Johnson Lee of her 7th Ward council colleague. "She wants the Basilica, she wants those areas out of the 5th ward."

Goodman, who now represents most of the central business district, Elliot Park and Loring Park, responded: "Do I want all the residents Downtown? Yes. I live across the street from the Basilica!"

Thanks to a decade-long population boom, Downtown now has enough residents (20,201) that it may anchor its own ward -- though it will need to pick up 10,000 residents from surrounding areas to be of legal size.

Currently, Downtown is split between Johnson Lee, Goodman, and 2nd Ward councilemember Paul Zerby (who represents 128 people and many parking lots in Downtown East).

Johnson Lee argues that the 5th -- already the city's poorest ward -- needs the wealthier, more politically active Downtown residents for City Hall clout.

Race is an undercurrent; the 5th Ward has a higher percentage of minorities than any other. The 5th's Downtown chunk has relatively more whites, so removing them could make the ward's minority percentages rise -- a possibly illegal "packing" of minorities so they can win in fewer wards (see "Redistricting Rules," page 15).

Goodman, a Loring Park DFLer and the only councilmember who lives Downtown, says the residents of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, Warehouse District-North Loop, Loring Park and Elliot Park have evolved into a "community of interest" deserving unified representation, just like the University or southwest areas.

"I represent 86 percent of [Downtown residents] already," she notes. "When someone calls to complain about coaxial cable [TV] wiring in their high-rise, my office already knows the answer. I can't think of neighborhoods that go together any better."

Redistricting commissioners say Goodman will likely get her wish. "I think the votes are going to be there for a Downtown ward," said Fredric Markus, the sole commission representative of Johnson Lee's Green Party.

Partisan considerations?

In making her case, Johnson Lee has a disadvantage on the Redistricting Commission. Her party, the Greens, has just one representative on the nine-member redistricting commission, while Goodman's DFL has three. Four of five remaining members are from the Republican or Independence parties; both parties have indicated support for a Downtown ward, according to Karen Collier, an Independence Party comissioner.

Johnson Lee says Goodman "wants to move me further into north Minneapolis. I think it's mostly about self-promotion, and I think it's a bunch of crap."

Johnson Lee said fairness demands the 5th include Downtown. "Besides looking at the racial representation, you need a balance of perceived power," Johnson Lee said. "You have an economic wealth base [Downtown] that gives you something to bring to the table. People want power, money and wealth, but they don't want to deal with the other stuff," such as problems of poverty.

Green commissioner Markus noted that one-ward advocates view Downtown as a "hole-in-the-doughnut" (with Downtown being the hole), but the area can also be viewed as a "hub-and-spoke" -- with divergent interests that stretch toward commonalities with surrounding neighborhoods.

For example, renters in Loring Park may have more in common with renters to the south in the Steven's Square or Whittier neighborhoods. Public-housing residents at 314 Hennepin Ave. might share concerns with renters in the near-North 5th ward, instead of $500,000 townhome owners in North Loop. High-rise riverfront condo and apartment dwellers may have more in common with neighbors across the Mississippi than with the low-rise landlocked residents of Elliot Park.

Neighborhood leaders back single ward

However, at least two Downtown neighborhood association leaders side with Goodman. Tom Reid, executive director of Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc., wrote the Redistricting Commission that his board members "strongly favor a redistricting plan that puts the entire Elliot Park

Neighborhood into one ward along with the other Downtown neighborhoods. The neighborhood is close to completing an almost year-long Master Planning Process, [with] a strong theme of ... our

connections to and influences from development in the rest of Downtown."

Jim Grabek, the chairman of the Warehouse District-North Loop Association, hasn't given a lot of thought to a single Downtown ward, but said, "Off the top of my head, I think it's a great idea...I think Downtown problems and opportunities are unique [compared] to more outlying neighborhood areas."

The problem with one councilmember

The downside of a single councilmember is that if you don't get along with that person, you don't have another representative to turn to.

That may be a problem for Downtown business leaders, who are circumspect about one Downtown councilmember -- partly because Goodman (who opposed the business-backed Block E and Target Store projects) would be that


Sam Grabarski, president and CEO of the Downtown Council, said, "Lisa Goodman is known to have very strong opinions and often not in concert with the business community at large. When she announces her personal and lifelong boycotts of certain stores, for example, heads shake in disbelief." Grabarski added, "If any ward would be difficult to represent, it would be Downtown, with 42 percent of the city's tax base and the largest concentration of workers and visitors in the area. [It would be] a hard job for anyone to do well, regardless of who we're discussing."

Goodman said that for projects with citywide impact, every councilmember considers Downtown "their" ward. For example, she noted, the previous council overcame her Target Store objections and approved subsidizing the project anyway.

How Redistricting Works

A nine-member Redistricting Commission draws the map. A City Council majority approves it.

The city's Charter Commission requires that two members per major state political party (DFL, Independence, Republican) be on the Redistricting Commisson. The council's majority-party and minority-party caucuses get one appointment each. The eight appointees then select a ninth person as chair. This current

commission contains:

  • Three DFLers (two appointed by the Charter Commission, one by the council majority caucus)

  • Two Republicans (appointed by the Charter Commission)

  • Two Independence Party

    members (appointed by the

    Charter Commission)

  • One Green (appointed by the council minority caucus)

  • One with no party affiliation (chairwoman Parker Trostel)

    The commission has held public hearings and is now mapping. After City Council approval, the map goes governs 2005 city elections. Key upcoming dates:

  • April 2: Redistricting

    Commission map released

  • April 19: City Council's vote

  • April 30: The drop-dead date for the Council to approve a map

  • May 1-7: Citizens can file suit

    How City Hall landed in the 5th Ward

    By David Brauer

    Redistricted wards are supposed to be "compact" -- no odd-looking pieces sticking out. But the current 5th Ward features a decidedly un-compact "hook" of the residential riverfront and business district curling around the 7th Ward's part of Downtown.

    According to a former redistricting commissioner who helped draw the 1990s map (and asked not to be named), the "hook" existed to get City Hall into the 5th.

    Why? Redistricting must produce "minority opportunity" districts, so non-white

    residents have a fair chance to elect minority councilmembers. In the '90s plan, the largely north-side 5th was one such ward; however, redistricters had added mostly white, largely wealthy voters living around St. Anthony Main and needed a few extra minority residents to reclaim "opportunity" status.

    But nobody lives in City Hall, right?

    Oh yes, they do -- if only temporarily. On the day the census was taken, several hundred "residents" were cooling their heels in the city's jail -- located in City Hall. Those

    prisoners, mostly minorities, were Downtown residents for a day -- and for redistricting purposes, a decade.

    A cynic might note that the prisoners boosted minority "opportunity" but never voted in 5th ward because they didn't live there -- or were ineligible because of past felony convictions. However, because of those inmates, the new residents who flooded into the Downtown riverfront during the 1990s building boom are now 5th ward voters.

    Redistricting rules: flout them and there\'s a lawsuit

    A single Downtown ward doesn't mean a Downtown-only ward.

    Redistricting commissioners must draw 13 wards containing roughly equal slices of the city's 2000 census population, or 29,432 residents each. Because the four Downtown neighborhoods had 20,201 people in the last census, any ward

    containing all Downtown will also need around 9,000 people from somewhere else.

    Which areas get sucked in - or whether a Downtown ward can be drawn at all - depends on obeying several concepts mandated by law and judicial


    Here are just a few:

  • Equality. Think of a ward map as a 13-piece puzzle where all the parts must be the same size. Each ward must be within 5 percent of the average population -- the commission is shooting for less than one percent.

  • "Compactness" -- no odd-shaped parts sticking out.

  • Contiguous. Wards can't have

    separated parts.

  • Shape. The city charter specifically

    forbids wards that are more than twice as high (north-south) as they are wide


  • "Minority opportunity." This is the most significant factor that might torpedo a single Downtown ward. Citywide lines must be drawn so that minority voters have a fair chance to elect minority

    councilmembers in proportion to their share of the city's population. A ward must have at least 40 percent minority residents to be considered a minority-opportunity ward.

    However, it's possible to have too many minorites in a ward - known as

    "packing." If Downtown parts of the 5th - which are relatively more white than the north-side parts - get pulled out, courts might rule minority voters are being denied a chance to win in other wards.

    That's why Keesha Gaskins, an NAACP official and Downtown attorney, said her organization "believes that people of color would be better served by not

    having a [single] Downtown ward."

    The NAACP or other organizations could sue to overturn such a plan. However, Gaskins said that, at least until the

    official map is released, "I cannot speak to any potential lawsuit."