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How to redistrict the city fairly: Norwalk Committee works to find an answer

Tuesday’s Common Council Ordinance Committee meeting on Zoom.

Norwalk’s Common Council districts need to be adjusted for population and to make them more equitable, so each voter has about the same level of representation, according to City officials and Attorney Steven Mednick, who has been working with the council on charter-related issues. 

But in order to adjust the districts, the City needs to establish a Reapportionment Committee and how that Committee is put together is currently up for debate. 

Mednick drafted a proposal for the Common Council Ordinance Committee to review at its January 16 meeting, which called for a committee made up of the city’s two Registrars of Voters and five electors from the public. The five electors would be recommended by the President of the Common Council and then approved by the council. No more than two of the electors could be from the same political party, according to the draft

Darlene Young, one of 14 Democrats on the city’s 15-member Common Council, is currently Council president. Council member Heather Dunn, an Independent, is the only non-Democratic member. Dunn, along with members of the Independent party and the Republican Party, raised concerns about having the Council president be in charge of the recommendations. 

“I’m very, very upset by the language in here,” Dunn said. “I think it smells—it doesn’t create inclusion.”

She and Lisa Brinton, head of the Independent Party in Norwalk, cited other city’s reapportionment processes where the minority party leadership submits names to be a part of the Committee. 

“Bridgeport, Stamford, Danbury, Hamden, and Waterbury all allow the minority party leader to select the members and submit names for this redistricting committee, and Norwalk doesn’t want to do that,” Brinton said during public comment. “To me that seems undemocratic, and unfair. All the electorate needs to be represented and the public needs to have faith in the election process. I totally support the redistricting committee based on the new census data, but I also support a fair and free election process, and that includes how we select the members to be part of this commission.”

Fred Wilms, the head of the Norwalk Republican Party, called the current proposal a “partisan and one-sided process.”

“The key questions are who decides who’s on the Commission? And how many are there?” he asked. “When I was with the State [legislature], when they redistrict—both sides pick their own members, and it’s a bipartisan equal member Commission with two co-chairs. And the purpose of that is to create a process that everyone feels that there’s a buy in. Everyone feels that it’s fair and aboveboard.”

Wilms said that they might take further action if the process isn’t done fairly.

“It avoids this unnecessary acrimony in the community—this is something that should be done right,” he said. “Candidly, the RTC depending on how things go, we do reserve the right to consider litigation if we feel that the process has not been fair.”

Making it ‘Nonpartisan’

Many members of the Committee said that they heard the points being raised, but wanted to keep it “nonpartisan” and they felt that having the Council President—and not the local party chairs for example—make recommendations was the best way to do that.

“Political chairs to make appointments to a Committee frankly, I would not support that,” Council member Joshua Goldstein (D-At Large) said. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I do understand the inclination to make sure that there is political diversity…I am actually receptive to the ideas you’re bringing up. I just think the specific proposal that you just said about the DTC and the RTC chairs is not something that’s palatable with me.” 

Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large) said that she didn’t think any of them had an interest in this Commission becoming a “political football.” 

“I would actually really prefer not to make this a partisan issue, which is why I don’t think appointments should be made by the chairs of parties, for instance,” she said. “The goal, again, is to be nonpartisan and not bipartisan to the extent we can.”

Potential solutions

Committee Chair Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) put forward two proposals—one where the majority party leader and the minority party each received one selection on the Committee with the rest recommended by the Council President, and then another where the Council President would be required to consult the minority and majority leader in order to make recommendations. 

Mednick said that he would draft language around the second one—and make the threshold for selecting members a two-thirds vote by the Council. He also removed the registrars of voters as members of the Committee and made them advisors to it, but kept the number of the Committee at seven people. 

The Committee will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, January 30 at 7 p.m. to review the new proposal before deciding to send it to a public hearing in February. 

District Boundaries

Outside of the political makeup, one of the questions will be how closely should the new districts align to the current ones? 

Stuart Wells, Democratic registrar of voters, said that he believed the lines needed to be shifted slightly to accommodate about 2,000 more people in District A and 2,000 fewer people in District C.

Niedzielski-Eichner also spoke in favor of keeping the districts close to where they are now, stating that it might be “adjusting a little bit of boundaries.”

Council member Jalin Sead (D-District A), however, raised some questions about where the boundaries of the districts are currently drawn—which would be a question for the Reapportionment Committee.

Sead specifically highlighted “the urban core of Norwalk,” which is Districts A and B—areas that have seen some of the most development. 

“They are like-minded and have common goals and initiatives that they might look for in a leader,” he said. “I would just want to make sure, because I know like in District B, their district right now it kind of cuts off at Bouton Street. And those people kind of might relate to South Norwalk more than Rowayton. So I think that might be something that might be worth noting.”

The conversation will continue at the special meeting on Tuesday, January 30 at 7 p.m. 

Comments

5 responses to “How to redistrict the city fairly: Norwalk Committee works to find an answer”

  1. Bryan Meek

    Please. You can all drop the dog and pony show here.

    If you think the Hartford machine hasn’t already determined our new map, I have a Walk Bridge to sell you.

  2. Bryan Meek

    I can’t wait to see the new jig saw puzzle they turn our electoral map into. I wonder if they can outdo Duff’s gerrymandered district where they made a noodle going all the way down to Stamford.

  3. Bryan Meek

    Excuse me. It was CT26 they carved out so they didn’t have to move CT25 (Duff) westward where the population balance is shifting. In any case, the map is ridiculous. https://www.cga.ct.gov/rr/tfs/20210401_2021%20Redistricting%20Project/NODISPLAY_data/senatemaps/Individual%20District%20Maps/Senate%20Districts_25.pdf

  4. John O’Neill

    The first thing we need to redistrict is West Norwalk. Our Common Council Reps are from Rowayton. Our State Rep is from New Canaan. AND I’m
    not sure where our State Senator is from.

  5. stephen balazs

    Not sure what Bob Duff and the STATE legislative districts have to do with the City resetting the district boundaries–Unquestionnably there are a group of Republicans who look to any opportunity to gratuitously criticize Bob Duff. Does Bob really need to get redistricted to when an election- especially when one of those who chime in was an incumbent and finished 4th of 4 (though a close 4th) . How many times can Wiley Coyote chase that Roadrunner before he finally realizes this has more to do with him than that bird.

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