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Reworking the Wards: Boundry Reassignment May Shake Up Political Order

Friday, February 16, 2001 at 8:06 AM

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You may see a lot more of your Cleveland City Council representative in the coming months. This is an election year - all 21 members will defend their seats. But before the contenders jump headlong into the campaign season, some may have to re-negotiate their home turf. This spring, council's ward boundaries will be redrawn - in ways that may shake up existing political order, as 90.3's April Baer reports.

April Baer- It happens every ten years: someone’s going to win, and someone’s going to lose. Cleveland’s City Charter calls for a re-evaluation each decade, to make sure neighborhoods are represented equally on City Council. Pollster Bob Dykes with Triad Research has helped redraw Cleveland ward boundaries for the past forty years. The idea, he says, is to keep the population of each ward roughly the same.

Bob Dykes- Well, what we do is take the population of the city and divide by 21, which gives the average population that a ward should have. Generally the courts have allowed cities to have wards that were 5% above or 5% below that average number, to take into account geographic and community boundaries, something like the Cuyahoga River.

AB- If one district turns out to have a population above average, its boundaries must be redrawn, assigning citizens to other, less populous wards. There are all kinds of reasons why the wards gain or lose population. Some trendy neighborhoods, like Tremont and Ohio City, are expected to gain standing in the census, as their property values have increased. Others, like Riverside on Cleveland’s far western border, lost population through circumstances no one could control. Ward Twenty Councilman Martin Sweeney.

Martin Sweeney- Since 1987 the airport has established a program to buy up the homes most affected by the airport, through a federal program, there’s approximately a thousand homes bought out the last 14 years.

AB- So even though Sweeney’s ward isn’t as economically disadvantaged as some, it may be entitled to pick up additional territory, to boost its population back up to average. While ward redistricting does offer some representatives a chance to pick up well-heeled commercial or residential areas, many say they aren’t interesting in upsetting the balance. Ward Six Councilwoman Pat Britt says she likes the boundaries of her Central-Fairfax Neighborhood just fine.

Pat Britt- I would like to see the wards stay basically the same as they are now for any number of reasons, one of which is that you just get used to certain things. Youg et used to particular areas and being responsible for those areas.

AB- Moreover, Britt says, when ward lines stay the same, voters know what to expect - and who to go to with problems. There are some voters, however, who hope the new ward boundaries will bring changes. Tremont’s a good example.

Over the years, this south central Cleveland neighborhood has been divided by one circumstance after another, from urban blight to highways built through homeowners back yards. Its’ residents struggle has not been helped by the fact that it’s split between three different wards - and three different council reps, each with different agendas. At this pasta diner, a yearly meeting of Tremont’s block clubs, resident Mark Dorsey says it’s time for the severed sides of his neighborhood to be healed, into one ward.

Mark Dorsey- When you talk to people whove lived here for a while, you get a sense of what is traditionally Tremont and what is not, so I’m looking that perhaps some of those neighborhoods will be included in ward 13. Some of the areas over by Scranton and Clark. I think with one representative representing all of Tremont it would, just politically be to the advantage of the residents.

AB- Right now most of Tremont is represented by Joe Cimperman whose ward Thirteen sprawls across several disparate downtown areas. Many observers expect that if nothing else Cimperman will pick up more territory in Tremont this year. But Cimperman vehemently denies that he’ll do so at the expense of his less affluent neighborhoods, such as St. Clair- Superior.

Joe Cimperman- No, I would never drop my home base, that’s where I grew up. And that’s a neighborhood that I will strive diligently to protect.

AB- Political considerations often affect how the lines are drawn, and this year is no exception. Once census data is released in April, council will have ninety days to reach an agreement on ward lines. If they can’t do it, the charter gives that authority to Mayor Michael White. Battles between Council and City Hall have been vicious lately, and many on council are reluctant to offer the mayor a chance to redraw the lines in a way that might favor the his chosen candidates. Ward six councilwoman Pat Britt says it’s hard not to think about how the ward redrawing might affect her chance for re-election.

PB- You’re always worried about it. You’re ALWAYS worried about it. You have to be.

AB- But Britt says she prefers to concentrate on her job and her relations with citizens. If she succeeds in those areas, she says, no amount of gerrymandering will turn this fall’s election against her.

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