Connecticut's Redistricting News
STRATFORD ó Some of the townís wealthiest residents in the 8th District and poorest in the 2nd District are now banding together to try to overturn a Town Council redistricting plan they say would greatly weaken the political clout of both districts.
Community leaders of the two districts said they will meet this weekto begin planning a petition drive to gather the necessary 7,500 signatures it would take to force the issue to a townwide referendum.
Oronoque Village residents in the 8th District are upset with the planned move of about half of its 1,500 condo owners to the 9th District, and minority residents in the 2nd District are outraged that their 53 percent majority would be reduced to 46 percent.
The two groups are vowing to form a unique and unprecedented alliance to defeat the redistricting plan, they say.
"This is such an important issue to residents in both districts because it would have such a negative impact on minorities and on the elderly," said Stephanie Philips, a community leader in the 2nd District.
Joseph Vescey, president of the Oronoque Village Condominium Association, said an alliance of 2nd 8th District leaders and residents could provide the boost needed to gather enough signatures for a referendum.
"We live in different parts of town, but we have a common goal to defeat this redistricting plan at all costs," said Vescey, adding his group is also considering legal action.
The revised redistricting plan was approved by the Town Council last week in a 6-5 vote before about 300 people at Town Hall, despite pleas by 2nd and 8th District residents and councilmen to consider an alternative Democratic plan that would not have impacted the two districts.
Councilman Louis DeCilio, R-6, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said the redistricting plan is based on population shifts within the townís districts mandated by law.
"They (residents) certainly have the right to mount a petition drive for a referendum," said DeCilio. "But I think they should realize that any redistricting plan is going to meet opposition by some people. You canít make everybody happy."
Opponents argued the plan was designed to help Republican council candidates in both districts where there is now a Democrat representing the 2nd District, and an unaffiliated councilman in the 8th District.
"We will fight this plan because we believe it violates our civil rights and disenfranchises not only minority voters, but elderly voters forced to go to unfamiliar polling places," said Councilman Alvin OíNeal, D-2.
OíNeal said a meeting with Oronoque Village leaders is being planned for this week to "develop a strategy" to gather the needed 7,500 signatures ó which is 25 percent of the townís registered voters ó that would force a referendum on the issue.
Leaders of the state branch of the NAACP said recently that if the plan were approved they would "closely monitor" whether it violates the civil rights of 2nd District residents by changing the districtís status in which racial minorities constitute a majority of eligible voters.
Councilman Robert Blake, unafiliated-8, said while it will be "quite a difficult task" to gather 7,500 signatures, he believes there are so many people upset with the redistricting plan that it can be done.
"The more I talk to people, the more I realize how upset they are," said Blake. "I think as more people around town begin to understand what is happening they will be willing to sign the petition, even in other districts."
New Haven Register
CHESHIRE ó The townís political landscape has been reshaped.
The nine-member Town Council has unanimously approved a redistricting plan that allows people to vote in the same location during state, local and federal elections.
The newly approved redistricting layout would divide the town into four council districts. This change was precipitated by the most recently enacted changes in state boundary lines that cut across town lines, and by the state law that requires the town to divide its census population equally by four districts.
In the past, the town configured voting districts only based on who was registered to vote. But now, the 2,800 inmates of the Cheshire Correctional Institution are being thrown into the mix.
Councilman Matt Hall, D-at large, said the town charter requires the town to recreate local districts that correspond with state districts, so a bipartisan team studied and redrew new electoral districts.
It took two years, but the team presented a plan that should make the voting process "less cumbersome" for the townís 28,000 residents, Hall said.
The townís registrars of voters, Republican Richard J. Abbate and Democrat Judy A. Cunningham, led the redistricting process.
Abbate said voters should receive sample ballots with the updated information prior to the electoral season.
Abbate also said that the council boundary lines are important only during a municipal election year, such as this year. The boundaries of the voting districts will remain the same for state and federal elections.
The redistricting process, however, became tricky and tedious when the town had to figure out what to do with the prison population. The town split up the prison population into a couple of districts. Mayor Thomas Stretton, D-2, jokingly said during Tuesdayís council meeting that this format benefits him.
"I am glad that you split up the prison population in my district. There are not many votes for me there," Stretton said.
Councilman Sheldon F. Dill, R-1, said the new layout should be administratively easy and consistent with the stateís demands.
"Itís is going to make matters less confusing for the voters," Dill said.
Luis R. Perez can be reached at [email protected] .
SHELTON ó A redistricting proposal shot down by the mayor a month ago has been revised and sent back to city officials with the kinks ironed out.
Mayor Mark Lauretti vetoed the original plan in April, after it was unanimously approved by the Board of Aldermen. At the time, Lauretti said the plan never went to a public hearing, though officials said Tuesday state law does not require a hearing.
In addition, officials said they became alarmed once they realized the new plan put Alderwoman Diane Marangelo, R-3, in the 1st Ward.
"We didnít realize that we had displaced a 3rd Ward alderman," said Steve Bellis, chairman of the Redistricting Committee. "It was an honest oversight on our part. One of our objectives going into the redistricting of the wards was to keep all the aldermen in their wards. We didnít want to play politics by divvying up the lines."
The original changes would have forced John Finn, D-1, the lone Democrat on the Board of Aldermen, to run against two incumbent Republicans, as Anthony Simonetti R-1, is already an alderman from that ward.
Bellis said Finn, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, has been apprised of the proposed changes.
"We did not want to create a situation where Republicans were trying to force out Jack Finn," said Redistricting Committee Vice Chairman Dan Debicella. "This is a bipartisan proposal. Our committee is both Republicans and Democrats."
Bellis said the committee never intended to hurt anyone and worked to keep the public informed of the process.
"We had a public hearing, which was attended by a handful of people, and we explained to the public what happened," said Bellis. "(Then) we carved out an area that was initially in the 1st Ward and put it back into the 3rd Ward."
Debicella said when the committee began its work it established three goals. He said the committee wanted to ensure that the all the aldermen stayed in their wards, that only major streets got moved, and that each of the four wards come as close as possible to holding ex-actly 25 percent of the city's population.
Under the current plan, the 3rd and 4th wards both have 25 percent of the cityís population, while the 1st Ward has 24 percent and the 2nd Ward has 26 percent.
Andrew Blejwas can be reached at [email protected]
STRATFORD ó The Town Council approved a controversial redistricting plan Monday, despite intense appeals from residents in the 2nd and 8th districts who argue the plan is designed to help Republican candidates.
Leaders and residents in the 2nd and 8th districts vowed legal action and possible referendum drives in an attempt to force the town to adopt a different redistricting plan.
Most Republicans on the council dismissed a Democratic alternative plan that council Chairman Robert Calzone, D-at large, touted as correcting population shifts in the 4th and 10th districts, while not having a major impact on other districts.
GOP leaders said the Democratic plan is "seriously flawed" and submitted at the "eleventh hour," making it a proposal they could not take seriously.
Residents and councilmen in both districts, however, blasted the council for approving a plan they insist is politically motivated by the GOP to gain votes and even council seats in the November election.
Councilman Alvin OíNeal, D-2, continues to insist the plan "disenfranchises" minorities in the 2nd District by reducing their 53 percent majority status to 46 percent, and by making residents vote in unfamiliar polling places.
"This is a violation of civil rights and we are going to meet with the NAACP to ensure everything that can be done will be done to correct this injustice," said OíNeal.
Leaders of the state branch of the NAACP said recently if the plan were approved they would "closely monitor" whether it violates civil rights of 2nd District residents by changing the districtís majority-minority status.
Town Attorney Kevin Kelly told the council Monday he believes the plan did not violate the Federal Voting Rights Act. However, in a confidential memo to council members, Kelly also warns that while there were factors that put the town at an advantage in a possible court fight, he added "(that is) not a guarantee."
In the 8th District, Councilman Robert Blake, unaffiliated with any political party, believes splitting the 1,500-member Oronoque Village ó which is also part of the plan ó by moving 400 to 500 people to the 9th district, is "pay-back" for his victory over a Republican councilman two years ago.
He said he now believes it is also designed to regain the council seat the GOP lost in that election.
"I am appalled at the action of the council that appears to be completely politically motivated and is clearly against the wishes of the people," said Blake. Orono-que residents submitted a petition to the council with more than 430 signatures opposed to the plan.
"This plan is a sham, and has been from the start," said Democratic Registrar of Voters Richard Miron, who is also Democratic Town Committee chairman. "I have never seen a more blatant example of gerrymandering in my life."
DeCilio, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, strongly insisted the redistricting plan is based on population shifts within the townís districts.
"Threats of legal action donít bother me at all because I know we didnít do anything illegal," said DeCilio. "I never said my maps were the perfect solution, but they are in no way an attempt at gerrymandering, or motivated by politics."
STRATFORD ó The state branch of the NAACP is "closely monitoring" whether a proposed Republican redistricting plan would violate the civil rights of Second District residents by changing the makeup of the district, where a majority of voters ó 53 percent ó are minorities.
The Town Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal tonight at a regular meeting following a public session at 7:15 p.m. in Town Hall.
Democrats are planning to present an alternate proposal at tonightís meeting that they say will not impact the Second District, or the Eighth District, where residents are upset the plan would divide the townís largest condominium complex, Oronoque Village, by moving more than 400 of its 1,500 residents into the Ninth District.
Jimmy Griffin, president of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches, said the NAACP is concerned the plan will dilute the Second Districtís 53 percent minority voter makeup, and lessen the impact minorities have on the townís political process.
Griffin said if the plan is adopted legal action could be taken.
The district has the largest minority population in town, and Griffin said heís concerned if itís reduced to under 50 percent minority candidates will have a difficult time being elected.
"We know that black voters will vote for white candidates, but few white voters will vote for blacks and other minorities," said Griffin.
"We want to make sure we arenít going backwards to the days when gerrymandering was a common political tool used to disenfranchise minorities."
The Second District is also considered a Democratic stronghold.
Republicans strongly deny they were motivated by either politics or gerrymandering in drawing up the new maps.
"There was never any consideration of that at all when we designed this proposal," said Councilman Louis DeCilio, R-6, chairman of the redistricting committee. "Iím willing to see what the Democrats present, and if I think itís better than the plan we put together I will support it."
DeCilio said, however, that in creating the new council maps, he only considered population shifts that required changes in the district boundaries.
The NAACPís involvement comes as a result of Town Councilman Alvin OíNeal, D-2, contacting Griffin two weeks ago to complain about what he considers "a blatant civil rights violation."
Griffin said he is anxious to learn whether the council will approve the plan.
"We are going to monitor the situation very closely and after a decision is made determine whether there are discriminatory practices going on," Griffin said.
Democrats said the redistricting plan would reduce the number of minority voters from 53 percent to 46 percent in the Second District, which is located in the south end of town near Bridgeport.
OíNeal also claims the proposal plan would displace voters by forcing them to travel farther distances to vote. OíNeal said Republicans designed the redistricting plan to break up the strongest Democratic district in town.
Oronoque Village Association President Joseph Vescey also threatened possible legal action if the condo complex in the Eighth District is split.
"We have nearly 300 signatures on a petition ready to present to the Town Council," said Vescey.
"Letís see if they do the right thing and adopt a different plan."
DeCilio said he isnít worried about the NAACPís review of the redistricting plan.
"They can look at it all they want, there are no violations or legal problems," he said.
The Ordinance Committee voted 6-5 last month to send the plan to the council for final approval.
STRATFORD ó About 200 residents of Oronoque Village voted unanimously Monday to oppose a redistricting proposal that would divide the townís largest condominium complex politically by moving about half of its residents from the 8th to the 9h District.
The residents also voted to urge the Town Council to keep the entire village in the 8th District.
More than a dozen speakers urged several council leaders at the special session in the complexís North Community Building to leave the village intact in one district.
Four council members, including Chairman Robert Calzone, D-at large, and 8th District Councilman Robert Blake, unaffiliated, attended the session.
Calzone and Blake oppose the plan and said Monday a new proposal that would have no impact on the 8th District would be presented at next weekís council meeting.
Councilman Louis DeCilio, R-6, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, and council Minority Leader Jennifer Hillgen, R-2, who has supported it, were also at Mondayís meeting. DeCilio said he would consider a new plan.
"I see no benefit at all in splitting Oronoque Village into two districts; it will lessen whatever power we have to elect a representative to the council," said Betty Mulholland.
Viola Robins told council leaders she also believed the proposed plan was designed to weaken the villageís impact in the next municipal election.
"I believe this is gerrymandering," said Robins. "Oronoque Village is no longer a Republican stronghold, and anyone who is not naÔve realizes this is being done because of the last election."
In the last election the village helped to elect Blake, a former Oronoque Village Association president, to the council.
Blake told residents Monday they should make their voices heard.
"I donít believe we should be split in half, it seems to me there can be some tweaking with redistricting without taking such a drastic step," said Blake. "Donít let this happen; itís not too late for you to make a difference by letting the council know how you feel."
James Orlowe, president of QUEST Stratford, a watchdog group that represents Oronoque Village, told council leaders he doesnít believe the proposal was put together for the right reasons.
"Is this being done to balance population, or for politics?" Orlowe asked, drawing loud applause. "Knowing the town of Stratford, I think we know the answer to that question."
DeCilio strongly refuted the new map was redrawn for political reasons.
"It was never my intention to make this political," said DeCilio. "Before now I never even heard any talk of another proposal; nobody even suggested another plan."
The councilís Ordinance Committee recently voted 6-5 in favor of sending the plan to the Town Council for final approval, but Calzone said Monday he will present an alternative that will only affect districts 4, 5, 6 and 10.
Democrats also insist the Republican plan "disenfranchises minority voters" in the 2nd District by reducing minority constituents from a current 53 percent majority to 46 percent.
Still fuming over a recently-adopted redistricting plan, several McKinley Elementary School parents have officially hired New Haven civil rights attorney John Williams and expect to soon bring suit against the Board of Education.
Williams confirmed Tuesday that he had been hired by "a number of the parents who are victims of what I consider to be a gross abuse of power by the Fairfield Board of Education. I do anticipate litigation in the immediate future."
Many McKinley parents have lashed out against the redistricting plan, which calls for over a third of their school's population to be moved to Stratfield Elementary in 2004-05, with about half of Stratfield's population moving to McKinley to better balance minority enrollment among elementary schools.
For some McKinley students, the move would be their fourth in four years. According to a letter written to the school board by the McKinley PTA, current second and third graders at McKinley will have moved five times and first graders three times in six years under the redistricting plan, and kindergartners three times in three years.
"We the members of the McKinley PTA are disgusted and appalled that this has been allowed to happen to our children," the PTA said in the letter read at Tuesday night's school board meeting. "This plan is not just or equitable and neither is the way in which it was adopted."
While redistricting has been the last straw for many McKinley parents, Williams said he will likely file a class action lawsuit that covers a variety of issues in the school's past, dating back "many years," he said.
McKinley parent K.C. Davis said many people contributed the $10,000 needed to hire Williams, including relatives of McKinley families, and residents from outside of the McKinley district. "It's kind of a big joint effort," she said.
Meanwhile, the school district administration has unveiled its policy regarding individual appeals that would exempt students from the redistricting. A committee formed by Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark will consider appeals for students in grades six through 10 this year; students in other grades would not be considered until next year, because the redistricting will not affect those grades until 2004-05.
According to the school's Web site, appeals will be considered on a case-by-case basis. An exemption will not be granted if doing so generates a need for more space, staff, or transportation funding. Parents will have to provide transportation for children not attending school in their assigned district.
Appeals forms are available on the school system's Web site, www.fairfield.k12.ct.us. Parents of students in grades six through 10 must submit an appeal to School Business Administrator Howard Zwickler by 4 p.m. March 28 to be eligible for a 2003-04 exemption.
MILFORD ó Mayor James Richetelli Jr. pulled what he admitted had become a "controversial" aldermanic redistricting plan Monday night, which had Democrats claiming victory and saying democracy is still alive in the city.
Richetelli, prior to the start of the Board of Aldermen meeting, announced he was pulling the proposed voting redistricting plan and asked the aldermenís Ordinance Committee to study his plan and come up with a new proposal for Aprilís meeting.
"The mayor had no choice but to pull it," said Alderman Lloyd Fleming, D-5. "The Republicans thought they could get away with it, but they didnít."
"This mayor is bowing down, but he had no choice but to bow down," said Democratic Town Committee Chairman Kevin McGrath. "The fact is people are dying all around the world for the right to vote and for some reason the mayor thinks he is the only sheriff in town."
Two weeks ago the cityís top three elected Democrats ó state House Majority Leader James Amann, D-Milford; state Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford; and aldermanic Minority Leader Gayle Slossberg, D-1 ó held a press conference blasting Richetelli for not including Democrats in the redistricting process.
The Democrats labeled his plan "partisan, unfair and undemocratic."
Democrats, through the use of published reports and videotape, say Richetelli has said the Council of Governments, a neutral, nonpartisan entity, reconfigured the voting lines. But Democrats contend the mayor concealed that former GOP Mayor Frederick Lisman and mayoral assistant John OíConnell assisted in redistricting.
Richetelli has since publicly acknowledged that Lisman and OíConnell, along with the COG, assisted in drafting revised aldermanic districts.
Richetelli said his pulling of the proposal from the agenda doesnít constitute a victory for Democrats.
"This is not a victory," Richetelli said. "If they want to consider it a victory for politics then thatís one thing."
He said Lisman in 1993 redrew the voting lines without controversy. Richetelli said there is no one more honorable than Lisman. . Lisman had nothing to gain politically from the process, he said.
The mayor said Lismanís plan has minimal impact on the voters and does not affect a single municipal official.
"If I had to do it over again, I would ask former Mayor Lisman and (Democratic City Clerk) Allan Jepson, two of Milfordís finest statesmen, to do it," Richetelli said.
Slossberg said she has drawn up her own redistricting plan, which would move fewer people out of their current districts than the Republicansí proposal.
She also said instead of the Ordinance Committee reviewing the redistricting there should be one Republican and one Democratic alderman selected to serve along with a neutral, unaffiliated individual.
However, Slossberg said she was pleased that Richetelli was forced "to give up control" of the process.
MILFORD ó The cityís top three Democrats blasted Republican Mayor James Richetelli Jr. on Wednesday, accusing him of misleading the public on who was responsible for drawing up new aldermanic districts.
State House Majority Leader James Amann, D-Milford, state Rep. Richard Roy, and Aldermanic Minority Leader Gayle Slossberg, D-1, slammed Richetelli for not including Democrats in the redis-tricting process and labeled his plan "partisan, unfair and undemocratic."
But city GOP leaders say Democrats are guilty of playing politics and showed disrespect by scheduling the press conference to make their charges at the same time former GOP Mayor Frederick Lisman, a target of the Democrats, was undergoing a cancer operation.
Aldermen will vote at 7:30 p.m. March 3 at City Hall on the redistricting proposal.
Richetelli has said the Council of Governments, a neutral, non-partisan entity, reconfigured voting lines. But Democrats contend that Richetelli concealed that Lisman and mayoral assistant John OíConnell assisted in redistricting.
Amann accused Richetelli of not being completely truthful.
"Quite frankly, Iím disturbed by what occurred," Amann said. "Iíve never seen anything like this."
Democrats produced documents and a video of Richetelli saying the COG worked on new districts and materials did not mention Lisman or OíConnell.
Richetelli has since publicly acknowledged that Lisman and OíConnell, along with the COG, assisted in drafting revised aldermanic districts.
The mayor responded angrily to Democratsí claims.
"Itís distasteful and sad that the minority leader would call a press conference on the same day the former mayor (Lisman) was going into surgery to battle a life-threatening disease," Richetelli said.
Other prominent Republicans also fired back at Democrats.
"What do the Democrats do for an encore: Steal pencils from a blind man?" asked Former Aldermanic Majority Leader Jack Fowler, R-1. "The Democrats are conspiracy theorists. The only thing missing is a grassy knoll."
Lisman, 62, was diagnosed with baseball-sized tumor on his liver last April. He was scheduled for an operation Wednesday at Yale-New Haven Hospital to remove the left lobe of his liver where the primary tumor was believed to be.
Lisman said last week that his tumor dissipated and is now undetectable.
Slossberg said Richetelliís stance proves he knows he made a mistake.
Democratic leaders stressed they were not criticizing Lisman or OíConnell, just Richetelli.
Amann, Roy and Slossberg said the mayor should start the process anew and involve Democrats.
"We have to eliminate the perception of politics," Roy said. "Did Fred Lisman or John OíConnell do anything wrong? No, but it was just one party involved."
Slossberg said redrawing voting districts is supposed to be fair and balanced.
Richetelli said his proposal will not be scrapped and will next be discussed by the Aldermenís Ordinance Committee. He said he enlisted Lisman because he had twice previously drawn up new aldermanic districts, both without incident.
The City Council appears to be making progress in creating new council districts that are more logical than the creative, odd-shaped districts put together a decade ago during the last redistricting process.
A special council committee has approved the proposed new districts, but a legal challenge to the redistricting process by the Bridgeport Republican Party appears to have pushed back the timetable for when the full council will vote on the matter.Republicans have legitimately questioned why the Democratic-dominated council waited so long to move forward with redistricting, pointing to an apparent city charter requirement that the process be finished by a specific deadline or a bipartisan panel must be formed to draw the new district lines.
A settlement to the lawsuit likely will be worked out in the coming days. The agreement likely will call for the formation of the charter-required bipartisan panel, then have the panel vote in favor of the districts already approved by the special council committee.
The proposed new districts appear to recognize neighborhood boundaries, respect major thoroughfares and avoid dramatic fingerlike extensions and indentions. Many of the current geographic oddities were specifically created by politicians to keep certain other politicians out of their council districts. The council districts also form the lines for town committee seats on the two major political parties.
The result is that many Bridgeport residents have no idea what council district they live in, and looking at a current council district map doesn't provide much guidance.
The City Council would be wise to approve the proposed map. Republicans should not hold out for more favorable districts, since there really are no concentrations of Republican voters in the city outside of Black Rock.
Thoughts with Alvin Penn
These are not good times for family members, friends and supporters of state Sen. Alvin W. Penn of Bridgeport, who now is at the Connecticut Hospice in Branford.
The veteran state lawmaker and former City Council member is gallantly fighting pancreatic cancer. He was being treated at New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, but recently was moved to the hospice facility for the terminally ill.
Bridgeport has benefited greatly from Penn's leadership, determination and frankness during his political career. Penn always has been willing to "call 'em the way he sees 'em." That quality often is in short supply when it comes to today's breed of politicians.
His approach surely has made him some enemies along the way, and he would be the first person to acknowledge that reality. However, at a time like this, Alvin Penn has no enemies.
Right now, an entire community is thinking about his contributions to making Bridgeport a better community. He always has fought for the underdog. In particular, his constant efforts to try to end racial profiling have made this a better society.
While we have disagreed with Penn through the years on many policy issues, including his effort to keep a city job last year, we have never questioned his integrity. Penn is more than a good man; he is a brave man. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.
It's not as bad as butterfly ballots, but with a new voting location, a new voting district, and a new state representative (that they didn't vote for), some Guilford Lakes area residents may be just a little confused about the polls.
Guilford is completing a state-directed voter redistricting that will see about 1000 voters in the Guilford Lakes region shifted from the third voting district into the fourth district. In addition to shuffling the town's voters, the redistricting also sees the fourth district assigned on a state level to Assembly District 101.
This state-level change means that, rather than having Bob Ward (R) as their state representative, the people of North Guilford will look to Peter Metz (R) of Madison to make their case in Hartford.
According to Registrar of Voters Anne Weir, this local change of districts is simply part of a larger, ten-year cycle.
"Every 10 years the Constitution requires that the whole country be redistricted based on the census, though people don't really connect the two," Weir said. "That's why Connecticut is losing one of its Congressional seats."
The redistricting process takes place in Hartford, and while each town can hold a public hearing regarding the changes (Guilford's was on Jan. 30), failure to comply with the districts is against state statute. Towns have to go along with the plan.
"It's always a little disturbing to have the districts change, but it's something we face," said First Selectman Carl Balestracci, Jr. "There is little we can do except to comply."
Balestracci points out that, in the balance, the change is not too disturbing. For most Guilford Lakes voters, the only change will be that, instead of heading to the Adams School to vote, they will now pull the curtains and push the levers at the North Guilford Firehouse.
"Keep in mind that it's as much an issue for the candidates as it is for the voters," Balestracci said, who pointed out that redistricting often tips the balance for one party or the other.
The method used for redistricting in Connecticut takes behind closed doors in Hartford, Weir said. While she feels there are times "they could do it a lot better," Weir notes that, with 169 towns, each with at least two registrars of voters, getting town-by-town input might overwhelm the system.
"The whole redistricting is determined by a bipartisan committee in the Connecticut legislature. They take leadership from both sides of the aisle and sort of hammer it out," Weir said. "Nobody calls us at all."
Maps of the new voting districts will be available in the Town Hall and the registrars' office plans a mailing of postcards to affected voters. Balestracci hopes to get the change in districts in place in time for the upcoming referendum on the proposed Emergency Services building, a vote likely to be taken within the next few months.
The Connecticut chapter of the NAACP is criticizing the state's new congressional district boundary plan for diluting the minority vote, but says the changes are not significant enough to warrant a lawsuit.
While about 33 percent of the populations of the former 1st and 4th districts were minority, none of the new five districts has a minority population of more than 29 percent, according to an analysis of census figures by The Hartford Courant.
Only 11 percent of the population of eastern Connecticut's new 2nd District is minority, the lowest rate among the new districts.
In the new 5th District, about 20 percent of the population is minority, compared with the 11.6 percent minority population of the 6th District that is being eliminated and combined with the 5th District.
U.S. Reps. James Maloney, D-5th District, and Nancy Johnson, R-6th District, are expected to run aggressive, nationally watched campaigns for the new 5th District seat.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups trying to protect minority voters' clout say state lawmakers who redrew the congressional districts appeared more concerned about protecting incumbents than safeguarding diversity.
"What it means is that for another 10 years, which will be the next time we'll have an opportunity to look at this, the minority vote in those districts is diluted," said Lisa Scails, president of the Connecticut NAACP. "Whatever positions or concerns we have as a community, there's no real guarantee those voices will be heard."
The state is losing a congressional seat because its population did not grow as fast as those in other states between 1990 and 2000.
State lawmakers who created the new district boundaries acknowledge that their main concern was ensuring a fair fight between Maloney and Johnson. By melding parts of the old 5th and 6th districts, lawmakers created a district with a larger percentage of minorities than the two districts would have had if they were simply combined.
Legislators drew the new 5th District first, then reconfigured the other four so that each district grew by about 110,000 people. Because three districts included major cities, most of that growth came by adding smaller, mostly white towns to the new districts, diluting percentages of minorities.
U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, a Democrat, will run for re-election in a 1st District that has a minority population of 28 percent - down from 33 percent. The district added rural towns northwest of Hartford, including Granby, Hartland and Barkhamsted.
House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford and co-chairwoman of the Reapportionment Commission that created the new districts, said lawmakers focused on "putting two incumbents together in a fair and balanced way.
But, Lyons added, "We were always cognizant of the need to have good racial representation and not dilute the ability of minorities to elect people of their choosing."
Commission members said it would have been virtually impossible to create a district in which minorities hold the majority, given that districts must be contiguous and reasonably compact.
The state's six U.S. representatives are white, as are the eight state lawmakers and one citizen who were on the redistricting commission.
"The redistricting process in the state of Connecticut is done by a select group of people," said Americo Santiago, a former state representative who is program and policy director for DemocracyWorks, an advocacy group concerned with voting rights.
"They have their political interests first in mind - that they continue to be in power," Santiago said.
Redistricting commissions are allowed to weigh the protection of incumbents. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits diluting the voting strength of minority groups to an extent that would prevent their members from electing a candidate of their choosing, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have limited that provision.
To prove dilution, minority residents must have been a majority of the old district - which is not the case in any of Connecticut's six old districts.
Connecticut's new congressional map measurably erodes the influence of minorities in two of the state's remaining five congressional districts, but could make blacks and Latinos a more potent force in the high-stakes battle between Nancy L. Johnson and James H. Maloney in the new 5th District.
Despite a decade of steady growth among blacks, Latinos and Asians, alongside a drop in the state's white population, the overall impact of minority groups has been flattened statewide. Where two of the state's former six districts - the 1st and 4th - had minority populations at about 33 percent, none of the five redrawn districts has more than 29 percent.
One district, the 2nd, now has a minority population of just over 11 percent - lower than any of the six current congressional districts.
But in the new 5th District, where a tight race is expected between the incumbents from the old 5th and 6th districts, the minority population is at about 20 percent, well above the 11.6 percent of the 6th District that is being eliminated, a Courant analysis of census figures shows.
The NAACP and other groups trying to protect the clout of minority voters acknowledge that the changes aren't significant enough for a court challenge, but they say state lawmakers who redrew the political map focused too heavily on protecting incumbents and too little on safeguarding diversity.
Johnson, a Republican who now represents the 6th District, is the only incumbent running in a district with a significantly higher population of minorities than his or her old district.
The dilution elsewhere in the state "is obviously a concern," said Lisa Scails, president of the Connecticut NAACP.
"What it means is that for another 10 years, which will be the next time we'll have an opportunity to look at this, the minority vote in those districts is diluted - which means that whatever positions or concerns we have as a community, there's no real guarantee those voices will be heard."
Maloney, the 5th District Democrat, and Johnson will face off in November in a new district that combines chunks of their old territories.
Connecticut was forced to consolidate its six districts into five because the state's population grew more slowly than in other states between 1990 and 2000.
The lawmakers who crafted the new districts acknowledge that their main concern was to ensure a "fair fight" between Maloney and Johnson. By melding certain pieces of the old 5th and 6th districts - each with its own spine of urban areas - they ended up creating a district with a larger percentage of minorities than the two districts would have if they were simply combined.
Once the new 5th District was drawn, lawmakers reconfigured the other four, each of which had to grow by about 110,000 people. With three of the districts anchored in major cities, most of that growth came by absorbing smaller, mostly white towns, diluting the percentages of minorities.
Democratic U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, for example, will run for re-election in a 1st District that has a minority population of 28 percent - down from 33 percent. The district added rural towns northwest of Hartford, including Granby, Hartland and Barkhamsted.
House Speaker Moira K. Lyons, a Democrat co-chairwoman of the Reapportionment Commission, said lawmakers had focused on "putting two incumbents together in a fair and balanced way." But, she said, "We were always cognizant of the need to have good racial representation and not dilute the ability of minorities to elect people of their choosing."
Commission members said it would have been virtually impossible to create a district in which minorities hold the majority, given that districts must be contiguous and reasonably compact.
The state's six U.S. representatives are all white, as were the eight state lawmakers and one citizen who made up the Reapportionment Commission.
The NAACP and other voting-rights groups monitored the redistricting, but they focused on state legislative districts and did not offer a congressional plan. Now, they express disappointment.
"The redistricting process in the state of Connecticut is done by a select group of people. They have their political interests first in mind - that they continue to be in power," said Americo Santiago, a former state representative who is program and policy director for DemocracyWorks, an advocacy group concerned with voting rights.
Redistricting commissions are allowed to weigh the protection of incumbents. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits diluting the voting strength of minority groups to an extent that would prevent their members from electing a candidate of their choosing, a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have limited that provision. To prove dilution, minority residents must have been a majority of the old district - which is not the case in any of Connecticut's six old districts.
The Big Race
Because the Maloney-Johnson contest is expected to be close - and because Republicans hold a narrow, 10-seat margin in the U.S. House of Representatives - even small demographic changes could be significant. Most of the redistricting changes bestow no obvious advantage but point to challenges each candidate will face.
Johnson will face a district with double the number of Latinos, about 72,000, and double the number of blacks, about 35,000, than her old district.
In raw numbers, the new district will have more college students and elderly people living alone or in nursing homes than either old district had by itself.
"It is going to matter how well each of these candidates is able to play on the margins and to pick up even the subtlest of changes here to their advantage," said Amy Walter, who follows House races for the Cook Political Report in Washington.
Although Johnson has consistently won her hometown of New Britain, that city - with a 4-to-1 ratio of Democrats over Republicans and a minority population of 41 percent - is seen as a possible opportunity for Maloney. Similarly, Johnson is expected to mine Waterbury, the hometown of Republican Gov. John G. Rowland. Waterbury has a minority population of 42 percent.
Maloney said he was pleased that the new district remains diverse.
"My goal through the process was to keep the backbone of the district together," he said, referring to Danbury, Meriden and Waterbury.
Johnson said she looks forward to campaigning in the new district. She said her record of helping children, seniors and middle-income families "is a perfect fit" for the new district.
Democratic Rep. James H. Maloney may find he has two opponents as he battles for re-election in the redrawn 5th Congressional District: Rep. Nancy L. Johnson and Gov. John G. Rowland.
Johnson, who has served 10 terms representing Connecticut's 6th Congressional District, is looking to run closely with Rowland, a fellow moderate Republican, who is registering some of his highest approval ratings in office and is expected to run for a third term this year.
Both Maloney and Johnson will be exploring new territory - literally. The redrawn 5th District stitches together Maloney's and Johnson's old districts. Both are seasoned political warriors who can raise piles of campaign cash and an army of workers. But there can be only one winner.
"It's going to be the hottest race in the country," Rowland said.
Connecticut is losing a congressional seat because of nationwide population shifts. The battle will be closely watched nationally as a key battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Johnson said Monday she is looking to Rowland for fund-raising and campaign help in her matchup with Maloney, especially in Rowland's hometown of Waterbury, which would be new to Johnson.
"Teamwork is what it's all about," Johnson said at a press conference with Rowland in the governor's office. In case anyone missed the message of closeness, Rowland hugged Johnson in front of the TV cameras
Maloney, serving his third term, said Rowland is a popular figure in the district - but he is too. He said he didn't think having Rowland at the top of the ticket would hurt him and help Johnson.
"I've never not had a tough race," Maloney said, adding that he was on the ballot with Rowland in 1998 and won re-election. "And I anticipate re-election this time."
Both Johnson and Maloney are considered party moderates who cut their own legislative paths. Unlike many members of Congress who rarely have to fight for re-election, both Maloney and Johnson are used to close battles in very competitive districts.
The new 5th District should be no exception. It stretches from the state's northwest corner south to Newtown and east to New Britain, incorporating 51 percent of Maloney's old district and 49 percent of Johnson's. It preserves Maloney's Democratic base of Waterbury, Meriden and his hometown of Danbury, and adds heavily Democratic Plainville and New Britain, Johnson's hometown.
In Johnson's favor, the district includes a chunk of conservative Litchfield County and GOP-leaning Farmington Valley towns. She gains Fairfield County towns such as Newtown, Bethel, Brookfield and New Fairfield.
While many states have not completed their redistricting plans, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said there are four other incumbent-vs.-incumbent congressional races across the country, in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Illinois.
Rowland said that with "two very aggressive candidates," both incumbent House members running, "I think it's going to be the one to watch and obviously will have national prominence."
While Johnson and Maloney stressed issues and differing political philosophy Monday, some observers expect the race to be fought with the political equivalent of boiling oil and razor blades by the time November rolls around.
Johnson, dean of the Connecticut congressional delegation and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, refused Monday to strike at Maloney. Instead, she stressed the importance of her clout and seniority.
"We are going to be passing a lot of legislation that will very directly affect the lives of millions of people in Connecticut," she said, referring to welfare reform and prescription drug plans that are under consideration.
Maloney said that he, too, is in a good political position in Washington, as the state's senior member on the House Armed Services Committee and as a member of the House Financial Services Committee.
"The most pressing issues are national security and economic and financial security," Maloney said.
If Johnson previewed her "Rowland strategy," Maloney Monday tried to link Johnson with the conservative Republican House leadership.
"Mrs. Johnson is joining her conservative leaders, and voted for the economic policies that turned surplus into deficit, growth into recession and a positive economic direction into a negative economic direction for the country," Maloney said.
New London Day
A New London man is challenging the new congressional and legislative maps, claiming that state lawmakers gerrymandered the districts in order to protect incumbents.
Norman Primus, a retired comptroller, filed a petition Thursday with the state Supreme Court asking the justices to strike down the districting plans adopted last month by the Reapportionment Commission. Those maps for the state House, Senate and Congress are invalid, according to Primus.
ìI am an American citizen and I believe in my country. I want it to be democratic,î said Primus, 82, a World War II veteran. ìWhen they take this data and use it for political purposes ó I find it revolting.î
On Dec. 21, the commission finally completed a map that whittled Connecticut's six congressional districts down to five. The state lost a seat due to population shifts to elsewhere in the country. Lawmakers were supposed to have finished earlier, but the state Supreme Court gave the panel some extra time.
The commission completed the state House of Representatives and Senate districts on time. Primus filed a complaint concerning those plans on Dec. 5. He has yet to receive a response from the court.
Speaker of the House Moira K. Lyons, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the commission, said she and fellow lawmakers weighed all of the relevant factors carefully, including one-person-one-vote, minority rights and communities of interest.
ìWe were careful. We were fair. And I think the end product will satisfy not just the court but, equally important, the voters of Connecticut,î Lyons said. ìThe plan leaves democracy in their hands, where it belongs.î
Primus considers himself an expert in redistricting and has been involved in reapportionment matters for the past 27 years in several states, such as Indiana and New Jersey. He claims that Connecticut's commission, composed mostly of legislative leaders, committed two major errors: using the wrong data from the U.S. Census and rigging the districts to protect incumbents.
ìThey showed very clearly how they discussed it to take care of their friends,î said Primus, adding how the commission used census tracts and census blocks to reach the desired populations in each district rather than voting districts. By using census blocks and tracts, Primus said legislators were able to trade groups of Republican and Democratic residents as chits during negotiations.
That process, he said, violates federal law. Primus also claims the commission asked for the correct census data pertaining to voting districts, but did not use the information when redrawing the district lines.
Sen. Joseph J. Crisco Jr., D-Woodbridge, a member of the commission, said the commission needed to use the census blocks and tracks because members could not get down to finite numbers using the voting districts. Also, Crisco said the commission staff for Democrats and Republicans researched the constitutionality of using the census blocks and tracks.
Most of the commission members and staff, including Crisco, attended a special conference on redistricting, hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures, last year. There, they learned about criteria mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
ìBased on advice of our counsel and our technicians in the whole process, we adhered to clear guidelines,î Crisco said. ìWe feel what we did is correct.î
Primus is hopeful the court will consider his complaints and look to alternative plans he submitted earlier last year. The retiree has developed a districting kit over the years that he claims enables someone to redraw district lines without considering political, racial or other data. His method, he claims, is the fairest way to redistrict.
A spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch confirmed that the court received Primus' complaints. A hearing has not been set, although it is unclear whether one is necessary. According to the state constitution, the court has 45 days to act on Primus' petition.
Primus had been a common fixture at the state Capitol throughout the redistricting negotiations. He was also a frequent critic of the commission, accusing the group of playing politics. Primus filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission, claiming that the commission violated Connecticut's open meeting laws. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 16.
A New London man filed a petition with the state Supreme Court Thursday protesting redistricting plans approved by a bipartisan commission.
Norman Primus, a self-described redistricting activist, said the legislative leaders who dominate the Reapportionment Commission used the wrong data from the Census and rigged districts to protect incumbents.
The panel recently completed plans to redraw political maps for the General Assembly and the Connecticut delegation to the U.S. Congress.
Primus, 82, has dogged lawmakers for nearly a year, attending most commission meetings and loudly protesting the political nature of the redistricting process. He said Thursday that the panel had incorrectly split voting districts and intentionally "gerrymandered" districts to protect incumbents from both parties.
Primus urged the court to consider a kit he has developed to devise fair, nonpolitical district lines.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said the justices had received the petition, but had not scheduled a hearing.
The redistricting plan eliminates one of the state's six U.S. House seats, combining the 5th and 6th districts and moving some towns in those districts to others. The contraction was mandated by the 2000 Census, which showed that Connecticut's population did not grow as fast as in other states.
The plan has also been criticized by leaders of cities and towns that have been split between congressional districts.
House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford, defended the commission's work.
"We were careful, we were fair, and I think the end-product will satisfy, not just the court, but equally important, the voters of Connecticut," she said.