A community redistricting meeting Thursday night discussed how to keep the 5th Ward one of the city’s three majority-minority wards.

The question arose because, to balance the overall population of the city’s wards, the 5th — which has lagged in population growth over the past decade compared to the citywide average — needs to expand geographically.

And the city’s Redistricting Committee has agreed to make keeping a third of the city’s nine wards majority-minority one of its goals for the redistricting process.

Since the white population of the ward has declined from 38% to 32% during the past decade that shouldn’t be a difficult challenge.

But the population of Black residents — the traditional majority in the ward — has also declined — from 41% to 36%.

Racial categories that have seen the most growth include residents who identify as being of two or more races, up from 4% to 11%, and those who identify as “some other race,” up from 6% to 9%. The Asian population has grown slightly, from 9% to 10%. The Native American population has also grown, but from a very low base of 0.3% to 0.9%.

Residents who identify ethnically as Hispanic have also increased, from 14% to 19%.

A ward map showing how above or below the 5th and neighboring wards are from the population average.

Several residents suggested moving at least part of the section of the 2nd Ward that is north of Church Street into the 5th Ward, although that neighborhood has a relatively high percentage of white residents.

Delores Holmes, a former 5th Ward alderman, suggested that a lot of people in that area collaborate across ward boundaries already — especially where the boundary line is now drawn at Lyons Street.

A few suggested adding a slice of the 6th and 7th wards lying west of the North Shore Channel to the 5th Ward, but that area is very heavily white and the idea received pushback for that reason.

Support was also voiced for moving the block bounded by Leonard Place, Ridge Avenue, Noyes Street and Asbury Avenue from the 7th to the 5th Ward — and perhaps extending the 5th Ward’s boundary even further north.

One resident living in the existing portion of the 5th Ward east of Green Bay Road suggested that section of the ward might better be moved into the 1st Ward — saying the issues affecting that area have more affinity with 1st Ward issues.

But Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) pushed back at that idea, and since both the 5th and 1st Wards are currently under-populated, it did not appear that idea would further the population balance goal.

The Redistricting Committee’s chair, Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), said the committee has nearly completed its series of ward-specific meetings — one more is scheduled to address 2nd Ward boundaries.

Then by the end of February, Nieuwsma said, the committee is scheduled to develop several proposed new maps, hold a meeting in March to get public feedback on those and then in April select one map to recommend that the full City Council adopt in May.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. So the goal is to keep the 5th ward predominantly black. Those of us old enough to have traveled to the south to register voters , integrate lunch counters, bathrooms, buses, schools, etc etc are now watching the reverse happening. Building a separate but equal school, summer camp, rec center, affinity group , etc My friends and I are just shaking our heads at attempts to turn back the clock to way it was. Separate but equal

  2. It is laughable that our alderpersons persist in their belief that they possess the Midas Touch when it comes to managing the economics of the city. Market forces and natural human behavior continue to expose the fallacy of their well-intentioned meddling. The homeless issue, exodus of residents to Wilmette or Chicago, marijuana tax diversion, deteriorating infrastructure, downtown vacancies, turnover in city management, and a plethora of other problems are only exacerbated by their involvement. Nobody has the power to ignore economic reality for any extended period of time. Stop trying to manage the city to meet your personal objectives.

  3. A few questions on this:

    By the phrase only, doesn’t this appear to fly in the face of the City’s alleged diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and promote a more divisive society?

    How would such goal be achieved and enforced long-term?

    Why is it even a goal to keep one third of our wards majority minority?

    What practices would be employed to prevent non-minority (defined as ?) from moving to Ward 5?

    Is this a cloak over a form of gerrymandering?

    Would a gay (minority) white (majority) person be allowed to live in Ward 5?

    Hasn’t it been proven that a society where segregation exists results in systemic, institutional, structural, comprehensive, inherent, pervasive, ingrained, and extensive racism?

    Are the remaining 6 wards defined as majority majority? If so, what practices are employed to ensure that only the majority is allowed to live in those wards?

    I have more questions but I’ll stop for now.

    One thing our city council excels at is alienating the MAJORITY of Evanston residents with their whacky ideas that show their inexperience and lack of understanding of their function. Undoing their damage will be a tough, long job.

    1. Designing “majority-minority” districts is a concept that — although controversial — is well established in redistricting practice.
      This Ballotpedia article provides some background.
      Nothing about the practice prevents anybody from moving to or from any district they choose.
      — Bill

  4. Questions likely others have as well, thanks for raising and also for the insight Bill Smith.

    Are Evanston Wards separate voting entities that are at risk of their votes not counting?

    Pardon my ignorance.

    1. Given that alders in the city are elected by ward (rather than at large as is the case for trustees in a village) — yes, wards are “separate voting entities.”

      The city’s population overall is 63.4% white. And the distribution of residents by race differs by neighborhood.

      Given that pattern, ward boundaries could at least hypothetically be drawn in such a way that no ward had a non-white majority, or in a way that potentially could give as many as four wards a non-white majority.

      To the extent that voters tend to vote for persons who share their racial identity, the racial composition of different wards could have a major impact on the racial composition of the city council.

  5. This is segregation. The alder people want to make sure they keep getting elected. Let’s call it what it is.

  6. How about conducting a survey of each address in any area of proposed ward carve-out and asking the residents if they would prefer the proposed move to a different ward? There really should be a majority decision by residents of any given area before such a change takes place. These are people we are talking about, not chess pieces.

  7. To Bill’s point, although some disagree with the doctrine, it is not in the shenanigans category of city governance. I see that much more in the process of allowing building permits or licensing for businesses. For example, while drawing ward boundaries does not stop people from moving where they want, the building permit process stops construction of residential units from going up which does limit where people can move to.

    Even if one disagrees with the doctrine, there are plenty of other, more damaging/costly, processes that Evanston and the school districts have that should get attention by the voting public.

  8. Are some or all of the aldermen and the mayor stating that individuals will only vote for those of the same race, and even further that only same race individuals may lead?

    The elected official, in this case the alderman, must represent all races equally.

    This whole aldermanic discussion is beyond absurd.

    Little makes sense to me with this mayor and council.

  9. Imagine if we had no Wards and/or all elected officials represented all of Evanston. I believe this is the governmental structure in Oak Park (a Village) and Naperville (a City).


    I’ve talked to a City of Evanston employee who lives in Naperville and their view is that the Naperville Mayor and Council operate very differently than in Evanston and “things get done”.

    It appears there is a lot of disfunction and disagreement among our City Council with many competing ideas and clashes. Maybe that’s just inherent in government?

    Just a thought….

    1. I understand the frustration. But remember that District 65 operates with this system of elections and they are in many ways worse in their mismanagement than the city council.

      That could be due to the quality of the people who run for school board, but it is clear that just changing the geographies elected people represent does not necessarily equate substantive reform.

  10. According to the Supreme Court case (Thornburg v Gingles) upholding the idea of “majority-minority” districts, “the minority must be able to demonstrate that the white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.”

    In Evanston’s case since we already have three majority-minority districts, the assumption would be that Wards 2,5, & 8 vote distinctively enough from the rest of the city to show that there is a difference in “preferred candidate” between the three majority-minority districts and the rest of the city.

    When you look at voting results, however, you see a very different picture: the majority-minority wards overwhelmingly tend to favor the same candidates as the other wards in elections where all Evanston voters have the same choice. And, furthermore, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that voting based on sharing the same racial identity of the candidate doesn’t occur all that much in any of the city’s wards.

    In the last election, for instance, we had several races pitting white candidates against candidates of color where all Evanston voters could choose among the same candidates. In the state attorney general, comptroller, US Senate, Cook County Board President, and Cook County Commissioner races, all of the wards preferred the same candidate and–interestingly–all of the preferred candidates were non-white. Both white majority and majority-minority wards preferred the same candidates and the white majority wards preferred minority candidates.

    In last year’s only contested gubernatorial primary, voters in the three majority-minority wards actually preferred the white candidate over the African-American candidate.

    The same pattern of wards supporting the same candidates holds true for Evanston-wide elections. In the last mayoral election every ward supported Biss overwhelmingly over the African-American candidate. This was also the case in the majority-minority wards where Biss won more than 70% of the vote.

    In the City Clerk race, the same thing happened. The candidate of color beat the white candidate in every ward suggesting that there are not vast differences in preferred candidates among Evanstonians, regardless of race.

    We also see this in ward elections such as Ward 9 which is not a majority-minority ward. In 2017 a minority candidate overwhelmingly beat a white male.

    In this year’s Ward 9 election we have two minority candidates, so the absence of racial preferences is going to hold up for three straight elections.

    The point of all this is to show that the idea that we need to prioritize “majority minority” redistricting simply doesn’t measure up to the facts.

    What we really need to prioritize is compactness and population equality across wards. Looking at the Second Ward boundary where you have downtown Evanston and Sam’s Club in the same ward shows how ridiculous the current maps are.

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