Mell targeted in redistricting plan; Group: not personal, not against LBGT

May 2, 2011

An alternative majority Hispanic district proposed by the Illinois Hispanic Agenda and the United Congress excludes Rep. Deb Mell's home. Credit: Illinois Hispanic Agenda

A coalition of Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American, community and religious groups released a Statehouse redistricting plan today at the Daley Center in Chicago. The group's redistricting plan drew both endorsements and support from groups throughout the Chicago region. The plan presented by the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations and the Illinois Latino Hispanic Agenda would cause two Illinois incumbents to lose most of their districts. One of the targeted legislators is Deborah Mell. Mell, the daughter of Ald. Richard Mell, represents an area that encompasses the entire western boundary of Ravenswood from Foster Ave south to Belmont. There it crosses the river to represent the Lathrop Homes/ Hamlin Park area. The other target appears to be Daniel J Burke, a legislator who won a tight race against a Mexican-American opponent in a South-West Side district. Burke's district would gain a stronger Latino population under the proposal. Much of Mell's current district shares communities of interest with the 33rd Ward. Richard Mell is the Democratic Committeeman and Alderman for the 33rd Ward. Richard is Deborah's father and in a powerful position to influence her political future. Latino activists were universal in denying to The Bulldog, in a presser at Daley Plaza Monday, that they had it in for Mell. However, the map says something different. In the world of political redistricting the number one priority is to get reelected. Two plans presented by the groups would each force Mell to run in what would probably be a district currently represented by freshman legislator Ann Williams. Williams' district is short about 6,000 in population, according to Williams, and itself will need to expand. Mell's situation will not please LGBT advocates. Mell is one of just three openly gay legislators in Springfield. The LGBT community was not represented in the alliance of groups. The Bulldog was told that the alliance was aware of the interest of the LGBT community of keeping their current strength in Springfield. The United Congress activists were vocal in extending a hand to other communities. However LGBT spokespeople said they preferred not to draw lines on a map. “The LGBT community is in every district and part of the entire state,” Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Media Group told The Bulldog. Baim told The Bulldog the gay community does not want to see its representation in Springfield “negatively impacted by redistricting.” “The LGBT community is watching to make sure their voice is not lost,” Baim said. Paula Basta, an announced candidate for the 14th Legislative seat, expressed concerns for the progress made by the gay community in Springfield. “We need to work to assure the laws passed, such as civil unions, stay in place,” she told The Bulldog in an interview last week. “We need a strong voice,” she said. Basta, who is openly gay, agreed with Baim that a line on the map wouldn't represent the diversity and broadness of the LGBT community. But she worried that gay rights could erode if groups pick off gay legislators to benefit themselves in the redistricting battle. Ravenswood lies between Hispanic majority districts in Albany Park, Avondale and Irving Park and Asian coalition districts that mainly exist north of Lawrence Avenue. On its east are areas associated with the LGBT community. Inside Ravenswood is a shifting population that was once largely German and Greek. Because Illinois nests its Statehouse lower house districts inside its upper chamber districts, the new districts will be drawn, no matter what citizens say, based on the needs of John Cullerton, the Senate President and incumbent Senate candidate in much of Ravenswood. Cullerton lives in the Ravenswood Manor area. But his senate district, which consists of Williams 11th District and Sara Feigenholtz's 12th District, extends to the Gold Coast on the south end and Uptown's Lawrence Avenue on the north. “People should be aware of the amount of gerrymandering of districts on both sides of our political system,” Ald. Scott Waguespack told The Bulldog. Waguespack said he wanted to see greater citizen input, but hadn't been following the state redistricting process. He wouldn't comment on the United Congress plan until he could study it. John Curry, the Republican committeeman for the 32nd Ward, told The Bulldog that having a plan that puts Mell and Williams into the same district is the natural outcome of a system that emphasizes race in politics. “These interest-based maps ignore established communities,” Curry told The Bulldog. “If you have a partisan or race-based map what suffers are contiguous established communities.” Curry told The Bulldog the Republican party hasn't participated in the Chicago redistricting. “The Republicans are not a consideration in this game,” he told The Bulldog. But communities like the Asian-Americans point to Chinatown. Represented by numerous state reps, senators and aldermen, it was an established community that was divided in the 2000 reapportionment process. Logically, it would appear that a community represented politically by a number of politicians would have greater power. However Chinatown discovered that politicians played “hot-potato” with their concerns. The politicians at every level thought the concerns of the community were best dealt with by other politicians. “They diluted our vote, they diluted our voice,” a spokeswoman C W Chan spokesman C W Chan of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community told The Bulldog. Yesenia Sanchez told The Bulldog the reapportionment allows communities to elect those who best represent the district. Deb Mell, Dick Mell, Burke and GOP representatives in the 33rd Ward did not respond Monday to requests to comment by The Bulldog. Last week Mell and Williams told The Bulldog they would not comment saying “it is still up in the air.” The Illinois Statehouse has, by law, until the end of the month to present its redistricting plan to the governor. No plan has been released by the Statehouse yet. Activists believe they need two weeks to study any redistricting plan put forward by the Statehouse.   *** Update 05/03/2011 @ 12.13P The Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community had first identified the speaker as C W Chan. That identification is being questioned. *** *** Update 05/03/2011 @ 5P. The Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community confirmed C W Chan's quote. The Illinois Latino Agenda asked for a correction to their proper name. We apologize for the error. ***


  • Tues., May 31 Last day to pass reapportionment by 50% +1 of membership
  • Fri., June 3 Gov. Pat Quinn must receive reapportionment legislation
  • Thurs., June 30 Last day to pass reapportionment by 3/5ths of membership vote
  • Wed., Aug. 10 Last day for eight member commission to submit a reapportionment plan
  • Wed., Oct 5 Deadline for nine member commission to submit a reapportionment plan
  • Early November Candidates begin passing petitions for office under the reapportionment


  • Federal Voting Rights Act. Provides protected minorities that could create districts of 50 percent or greater population proportion with protection from practices of cracking and packing to dilute their strength.
    • Race and ethnicity cannot 'predominate' as a factor in drawing districts without good reason
  • Gingles Factor. A court test based on the Federal VRA provides that to prove a section 2 VRA violation
    • The minority group is sufficiently large and geographically concentrated to make up a majority district
    • That the minority group is politically cohesive
    • That the white majority votes together to defeat the minority candidate
  • One person, one vote
    • Baker v Carr, 1962 court decision held that districts have to have roughly equal population
  • Cracking. Diluting a group. A violation of the VRA for protected minorities if it harms the ability of minorities to elect representation
  • Packing. Concentrating a group. A violation of the VRA for protected minorities if it harms the ability of minorities to elect representation
  • Illinois Voting Rights Act
    • Districts must be contiguous. No island districts
    • Compactness. District should be compact
    • Nesting. Two Illinois representative districts are 'nested' inside each state senate district
    • Encourages 'communities' of common concern
      • May be ethnic, religious, based on transportation, sexual, etc.
      • Legislature will act not to break up (crack) such communities
    • Crossover districts. The minority is potentially large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from voters outside the minority
    • Coalition districts. More than one minority could form a coalition to elect a candidate of their choice
    • Influence district. A minority can influence an election even if the minority candidate cannot be elected
Source: MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Protected minority. Generally one of four groups that have proven courts or the legislature to be disadvantaged as a group. See explanation in EEO guidelines.
  • Reapportionment. The redistribution of legislative seats, especially among the states in the US Congress.
  • Redistricting. The act of redrawing district boundaries for legislative boundaries.

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