By Matthew Reichbach
The Albuquerque City Council approved a redistricting map that will eliminate Commissioner Ike Benton’s district, which includes Albuquerque’s downtown area, and move it to the fast-growing westside part of the city. The map, which passed on a 5-4 party-line vote, uses the Rio Grande as a border.
Benton would be paired with Debbie O’Malley in a district that includes downtown and the North Valley areas of Albuquerque.
The map goes to Mayor Richard Berry who is likely to sign the redistricting map — but the battle likely won’t end there, as opponents say the map “packs” minorities in one district, diluting the minority voting strength, which would violate the Voters Rights Act.
The newly created Westside district, while expected to still be friendly to Democrats, would have a super majority of Hispanics — 82 percent. This is why opponents of the map say that the city council “packed” the district with minority voters at the expense of other districts. According to the U.S. Census, Albuquerque is 46.7 percent Hispanic.
Opponents also pointed out that with consolidation of most of the old District 3 into O’Malley’s North Valley District 2 will mean that almost all of the city’s federally designated “pockets of poverty” will be contained in a single district.
If opponents so choose, the redistricting map could join the New Mexico House of Representatives map in the courts, drawing out the process further. Insofar as the next Albuquerque municipal election is not until 2013, however, there may not be a great sense of urgency on the part of the courts in finalizing a new council map. This would be in sharp contrast to the legal battle involving the N.M. state House of Representatives map as the clock is ticking away with an impending primary election scheduled for the first Tuesday in June.
The big winner of the new map is Albuquerque’s Westside, which would have three full districts, an increase of the current two districts and a part of another.
O’Malley introduced a competing map, which was tabled, which would have extended borders across the Rio Grande and kept all five current city councilors in their districts. Opponents of that map say they preferred that the Rio Grande be used, when possible, as a natural border for districts, something that O’Malley says is divisive for the city.
The City Council said that Benton would be allowed to continue serving until his term ends in 2013, but court action could force Benton from his seat. In that case, the mayor would be allowed to appoint a replacement, likely increasing the Republican advantage on the city council from its current 5-4 advantage to 6-3.
Odds and Ends
- Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis, the map’s sponsor, said before the hearing that the map was neutral because it was based almost entirely on a map created by Research & Polling. Ironically, Republicans involved in the state House redistricting case have made an major issue in their court filings of what they allege is the Democratic bias of the very same Research & Polling and its owner, Brian Sanderoff, which also performed the technical mapping work for the state legislature.