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Council OKs Map, Cutting Benton’s Seat

redistricting
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Albuquerque city councilors late Wednesday narrowly approved a proposal to create an open council seat on the West Side by eliminating Isaac Benton’s center-city district.

The approval came on a 5-4 vote along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. The new map now goes to Mayor Richard Berry, also a Republican.

The proposal calls for Benton to remain in office to finish his term through the October 2013 municipal election, though that decision could be challenged in court.

Opponents suggested they will fight the map on other grounds, too, by arguing that it illegally packs too many poor, minority neighborhoods into one district.

But the sponsor of the map, Councilor Dan Lewis, said it was simply a non-partisan attempt to provide the West Side with the extra representation it deserves because of population growth.

Lewis added that the plan was vetted by experts, including the city’s redistricting contractor, Research & Polling Inc., and attorneys.

“None of these maps is perfect,” Lewis said, “but I do believe (this map) is the best option as we move forward.”

Benton, on the other hand, said almost every one of the city’s federally designated “pockets of poverty” will now lie in one of nine council districts.

“It’s clearly unjust, and it’s also bad public policy,” he said.

The West Side would get three full districts. It now has only two, plus a smidgen of a third.

Benton suggested an alternative to Lewis’ plan that would also give the West Side three districts, but by moving over the Northeast Heights district of Republican Michael Cook instead.

Public testimony at the meeting was overwhelmingly against the plan that was eventually adopted. Many opponents were neighborhood leaders from older neighborhoods in the urban core.

Javier Benavidez, president of the Barelas Neighborhood Association, said the map amounts to “abandoning the neighborhoods that need the City Council the most.”

Councilor Don Harris, a Republican, defended the map against accusations of partisanship and said there would be some opponents to any plan. Maps favored by Democrats had political implications, too, he said.

“The fact is, this is a political process,” Harris said. “It’s a political call. We had to make it.”

Rey Garduño, a Democrat, called the proposal “gerrymandering.”

Berry can veto or approve the plan.

If approved, Benton will now live in the new District 2, which is represented by Debbie O’Malley and covers the North Valley and Downtown area.

If Benton is forced off the council before the 2013 election – perhaps because of legal action – the City Charter calls for the mayor to appoint a successor to serve until the election.

Under the proposed map – a variation on what’s known as “Map L” – the population in five City Council districts will be mostly minorities. Under the current districts, six have a mostly minority population, though one district is just barely so.

Albuquerque’s population is about 42 percent non-Hispanic white, according to Research & Polling.

In favor of the approved plan were Republicans Trudy Jones, Brad Winter, Lewis, Cook and Harris. Against it were Democrats O’Malley, Ken Sanchez, Benton and Garduño.

The new District 3, which would sit on the Southwest Mesa, is still expected to favor a Democrat. It will, however, be much more heavily Hispanic, with about 82 percent of residents identifying themselves that way. It’s now about 58 percent Hispanic.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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