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Cook County seeks map suggestions

Monday, April 30, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Not many Cook County residents spend time studying the boundaries of the Board of Commissioners’ districts; of those who have, some may deduce the misshapen outlines are the scribblings of a second-grader.

They are, in fact, the labor of a professional map-drawing consultant, whom the county has brought back to the drawing board. This time, he would like some help from the public.

“Rather screwy,” was how Peter Creticos described the appearance of a few of the districts he designed in the current Cook County district map.

“The first order of business is to address issues of the Voting Rights Act,” which he told an audience last week forced some odd-looking layouts.

The county held meetings in a variety of locations around Chicago and the suburbs in April and this week, seeking public input for a new district map before Creticos draws a new one. Just as the 2010 U.S. Census data mandated boundary changes for state and federal elected officials’ districts, the county is redrawing its representatives’ lines — a task complicated by the fact that Chicago is, in terms of race and nation of origin, possibly the most diverse, yet segregated, city in the nation.

“It looks like you dropped spaghetti on Cook County,” said Creticos, a policy consultant and the man who took credit for dropping the spaghetti in the current model. “It’s not something that everybody’s going to feel very happy about at the end.”

What the next map will be is undefined. Creticos did not present any drafts, and press releases from the county in April asked residents to create suggestions that included all 17 districts and the entire county. The existing map went into effect on Sept. 6, 2001.

The new census reports that Cook County’s population dropped slightly in the ‘00s, shrinking from 5.38 million to 5.19 million people. Urban Districts 1, 4 and 8 were the hardest-hit, losing a combined 102,632 people, while most suburban regions showed small gains.

Cook’s racial divisions remained in 2010. Chicago is a patchwork of neighborhoods, where more than 50 percent of the area’s population is a single ethnicity, either African-American, Hispanic or Asian — and in some cases, more than 65 percent. In the suburbs, most sections are more than 65 percent white, with the exceptions mainly being the forest preserve areas and a few Asian and Hispanic enclaves.

Such hard divisions create headaches for district-definers, Creticos said. The Voting Rights Act and other laws mandate that racially-defined communities be kept together in ward maps. When he drew the current map more than a decade ago, Creticos began by placing District 1 in the inner city, and worked his way out.

Those constraints, he said, are why he had to turn the South and West sides’ Districts 6 and 16 into Tetris-on-steroids shapes, and how the west suburbs’ District 17 became …whatever it is.

Maine Township Democratic Committeewoman Laura Murphy attended one of last week’s meetings, and said it was wrong for the suburbs to receive last consideration and, thus, bizarre districts that link unrelated municipalities. She noted Maine Township is split into three wards, grouping some of her neighbors with Buffalo Grove and others with Hinsdale.

“You have to redesign the 17th District,” Murphy said. “I’m trying to get one person to cover my township.”

The county had set a deadline for public map submissions of May 1, but last week pushed that back to an undetermined date. Regardless of how much advice he gets, Creticos said the laws remain the same, and spaghetti may fall on the suburbs again.

“The growth is in the north, and so you see this sort of squeezing effect,” he said. “Seventeen, with apologies to everybody, is what happens.”

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