Cleveland’s population loss means 2 more City Council seats eliminated next year
A new ward map has only begun to take shape. And council members, who hired consultants to manage the data and draft a recommendation, are reluctant to speak openly about the details of a process that depends heavily on political allegiances and issues of race.
One fact remains clear: Since council districts were last drawn, in 2009, Cleveland's population has shrunk by more than 30,000 people to about 396,000, according to the most recent U.S. census figures. Most of that population loss occurred in the city's northeast quadrant. But the East Side -- home to several of the city's historic, predominantly black neighborhoods -- will lose only one ward in the redistricting, to preserve council representation for the black community.
"The East Side will not lose two wards. Period. End of sentence. No qualifiers," said consultant Bob Dykes, who, along with his partner, Larry Brisker, has been meeting with council members individually and in groups to discuss how adjacent ward boundaries could be altered.
"There would be substantial opposition from members of council and residents throughout the city, not just from the East Side," Dykes added. "They think it would be unfair. Already the majority of the city's residents are minorities, while the majority of council members are not. Losing two seats on the East Side -- I think that plan would not fly."
Council, which redraws the lines every decade following the census, must do so by April 1 or cede the authority to Mayor Frank Jackson. Council President Martin J. Sweeney will work with the consultants and is expected to present his colleagues with a map for consideration sometime in March.
Cleveland had 33 council members until 1981, when the charter was amended by a popular vote, shrinking the council to 21 wards, each with roughly equal population. In 2008, voters approved another charter change requiring that the number of council seats correlate to the city's population. To comply with the charter, ward boundaries were redrawn the following year, based on population estimates produced by a Cleveland State University study. Now the city is due for its decennial redistricting.
Some council members worry that redrawing ward boundaries twice in four years could mean that some residents will have had three different council representatives in that short time frame.
Dykes said in a recent interview that he was aware of that possibility at the time of the last redistricting and designed the 2009 map in such a way that 85 percent of Clevelanders remained in their wards. It could mean that more residents will change wards this time around, but for most, it will have happened only once, he said.
Maintaining the balance between East Side and West Side, however, most likely will require many of the eastern wards to gain more of the population by reaching further westward, Dykes said.
That could mean, council members speculate, that wards like Councilman Tony Brancatelli's -- which historically encompassed Slavic Village and was stretched west across the Cuyahoga River to encompass parts of Old Brooklyn during the last redistricting -- could eventually cease to be an East Side ward altogether.
Councilman Joe Cimperman's ward, which includes the St. Clair-Superior area and downtown, also crosses the river to take in parts of Ohio City and Tremont.
Brancatelli, who acknowledged in a recent interview that his ward might be pulled even farther west to claim a portion of the Tremont neighborhood, said he gets along with his council colleagues in that area. But he said that representing too many neighborhoods over sprawling geographic stretches could be difficult, and the final map might determine whether he seeks re-election.
"I certainly want to run again," Brancatelli said. "But I'm waiting to find out how much of my ward crosses the river and how big of a piece of land I have. I need to see how my ward boundaries look and make the decision of whether I want to do this anymore."
Dykes confirmed that the second eliminated seat would be in what he described as the midwest part of town.
Some council members said in interviews that as consultants set boundaries starting with the wards located on the city's fringes and work their way inward, a turf war could erupt among members representing neighborhoods toward the center of town.
Several senior council members are ripe for retirement, and although no announcements have been made, speculation and rumors have circulated within the council. A vacancy on either side of town could simplify the redistricting process, allowing surrounding wards to absorb the retirees' turf with fewer political battles.
Dykes said that two council members certainly will end up in the same ward and added, "probably it will be only two," intimating the possibility of a council retirement or a decision not to seek re-election.
Sweeney said in an interview that although redrawing the wards is a political process, the decisions will be made based on what would best serve the residents, and retirements should not affect the final result.
Other council members contend that the process is purely political, and they have accused Sweeney in the past of targeting the wards of his most outspoken critics.
Councilman Zack Reed was stripped of his political base in 2009 when the Mount Pleasant area was carved up and spread among multiple wards. Later that year, he survived his bid on a crowded ballot to represent what became Ward 2, including parts of Mount Pleasant and Kinsman.
But Reed said in a recent interview that, considering what he has been through, he is anxious about the new map.
"Talk is cheap," he said. "People have been patting me on the back and saying, 'Things will be all right for you this time.' But the decision on how those maps look comes down to the council president. And last time, Marty Sweeney made the decision that he would come after Zack Reed."
Sweeney has denied that he requested boundaries be drawn a certain way in 2009.
Reed said that designing a revitalization strategy for Mount Pleasant has been challenging because five council members with different priorities claim a piece of the neighborhood.
Councilman Mike Polensek, who recently set a record as the longest-serving public official in Cleveland's history with 35 years representing Collinwood and the surrounding area, said that when he oversaw the redistricting process as council president years ago, he allowed members to choose their own boundaries and find consensus on their own.
He said he has seen his ward's boundaries redrawn so many times, he is immune to the politicking that accompanies it. And the councilman, who has a prickly relationship with Sweeney, pledged to run for re-election no matter where the lines fall.
"Of course, my fearless leader would prefer to put me in Bratenahl if he could," said Polensek, referring to Sweeney and the neighboring village. "Or on Mars. But he can't. And I'll run wherever he puts me. I've made that clear. If someone wants to take me on, be my guest. I believe in competition. I look forward to it."
Article source: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/12/cleveland.html