Redistricting of Cook County board to be determined in coming weeks

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Our federal government requires that a census (count) of the population be taken every 10 years to determine how many representatives each state will send to Congress, as well as boundaries for Chicago’s wards, and the state and county legislative districts.

The census is also used to help determine the levels of federal funding each local community receives for certain programs. The districts must be drawn in such a way that the voting power of minorities is not diluted. The state of Illinois and the city of Chicago have recently drawn new maps for Congress, state legislative and ward boundaries.

Cook County is still in the redistricting process and is on track to be finished by the end of June. The county held the last of five public meetings on May 8 and expects to have a draft map completed by May 29, which will be posted on the county’s web site. The county will host a public hearing on the proposed map June 19.

Outlined below is a summary of remarks I, Valerie F. Leonard, co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance, made at a recent public hearing.

The North Lawndale community is located approximately three miles west of downtown Chicago. As of 2008, the racial composition was about 94 percent African-American, 4 percent Hispanic and 2 percent white.

The community continues to struggle with issues of high rates of poverty and unemployment, blighted commercial districts, high crime, poor performing schools, high mortgage foreclosure rates, lack of access to decent and affordable housing, and limited access to health care.

While we have a number of challenges, we also have a number of assets, including Douglas Park designed by the legendary landscape architect Jens Jensen and the Historic K-Town District, one of the largest concentrations of historic Greystone houses in Chicago.

The community is held together by its history and culture, which includes block clubs, community gardening, basketball games and gospel festivals. North Lawndale nurtured the talents of such people as former Cook County Board President Bobbi Steele, Ramsey Lewis, Otis Clay and Darryl Stingley to name a few.

The North Lawndale community is complex and has a unique set of issues and assets that require special attention. We ask that you keep the North Lawndale Community intact and situated in the 2nd District.

For our purposes, the North Lawndale Community is defined as Chicago’s Community Area 77. We also ask that, to the greatest extent possible, the 2nd District boundaries incorporate the new boundaries for the Illinois 9th Legislative District and 24th Ward. This would allow social service providers as well as elected officials to better coordinate community services and other resources.

A review of the Census statistics indicates that overall, the Cook County population decreased by 3 percent, while Chicago’s population decreased by 6.9 percent during the same period.

In spite of the fact that Chicago lost about 200,000 people, the 2nd District maintains a population of 306,696, which is 1,127 higher than the target district totals set by the Redistricting Committee. The racial composition of the voting age population is 32 percent white, 52 percent African American, 10 percent Asian and 6 percent Latino. Approximately 35,912 of 2nd District residents, or 11.7 percent, are from North Lawndale.

Other African-American districts across Cook County, including Districts 1,3,4 and 5, have voting age populations ranging from 61 to 75 percent African American. They also have population variances ranging from 15,149 to 26,833 below the target population of 306,696.

Much of this population decline could be attributed to loss of public housing and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. We respectfully request that any redistricting be done to preserve the five majority African-American districts with land mass in Chicago, with a minimum of 57 percent African American voting age population, where possible. Majority African-American districts are preferred to coalition districts to keep from diluting our voting power.

Finally, we ask that you advocate for changes in the way the state accounts for prisoners in the Census. Under current Illinois law, incarcerated persons are not counted in the Census numbers of the community from which they originate, but in the populations of the towns in which they are incarcerated.

As a result, the Census numbers in Chicago for African Americans are significantly undercounted, while the numbers in some Downstate communities are inflated by over 95 percent. Representatives from the districts in which the prisoners are incarcerated have a history of voting against legislation that will enhance education, job training and rehabilitation of prisoners. This arrangement does not adequately fulfill the spirit of the one man one vote convention connoted by our Constitution.

On the other hand, legislators from the prisoners’ originating communities tend to be the ones advocating for improved education and rehabilitation services for prisoners who are not counted in their districts’ population. The same is true at the county and ward level.

To add insult to injury, Downstate towns are receiving entitlement funds for Community Development Block Grants and Social Service Development Block Grants that benefit their communities, but not the prisoners. When the prisoners return home, their originating communities are the ones who must help them transition by providing housing, job training and other social services.

Unfortunately, the originating communities don’t get their full share of funding because the prisoners were counted in the Downstate town’s Census statistics. We respectfully request that Cook County lobby the State Legislature to pass laws legislation to ensure that prisoners are included in the Census counts from their originating communities.

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