In drawing new legislative districts for state lawmakers last week, Democrats in Springfield said they abided by voting-rights laws and citizens’ concerns.
But they might have done so at the expense of suburban residents, some of whom already felt neglected by their Chicago-based lawmakers.
The new maps show more districts snaking outward from the city, which remains a Democratic stronghold, and into the collar-county suburbs, which lean Republican. In addition to partisan divisions, residents in the two areas can have different local concerns.
“The General Assembly just ignores this community,” said Mary Schaafsma, issues and advocacy coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Illinois. “When representatives are elected from a base in Chicago, they are concerned with that base and not so much with voters living in the outlying areas of their districts.”
The final map will reflect the technical side of political strategy. District boundaries, which were carved block by block, can determine control of the statehouse for years and can determine how billions of dollars in state resources are allocated.
Under the new map, more legislators will be straddling city and suburban territory, particularly in the south suburbs. That can place constituents of the same district in opposing corners.
The latest push for a Chicago-based casino is one example where suburban constituents could get thumped by the city’s stronger fist. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has indicated he wants a city casino, a proposal likely to compete for legislative support against a plan for an additional riverboat for the south suburbs, where mayors have long pleaded their case for one.
“If you’ve got a legislator who represents both the city and suburbs, where do his or her loyalties lie?” asked Ed Paesel, executive director of South Suburban Mayors and Managers,which represents 42 communities. “It makes it more difficult for them.”
Construction of a third regional airport near Peotone is another issue that often divides city and suburban legislators, along with education proposals that include charter schools.
In addition to policy issues complicated by the map, redistricting gives the ruling party — in this case, the Democrats — the power to intentionally jeopardize Republican seats.
By dividing Republican strongholds in the new map, Democrats have sought to dilute the strength of Republican voters. In Republican-leaning LaGrange, for example, Senate Democrats connected the town with the working-class communities of Summit and Berwyn, making it more difficult for a Republican to win.
Long, spoke-shaped districts stretch into the suburbs, particularly south and southwest, surrounding Chicago like a bicycle wheel. The proposed district of State Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, runs from the Southeast Side to farmland more than 40 miles south.
Democrats said the oddly shaped districts are necessary to uphold the federal Voting Rights Act and Illinois Voting Rights Act. By creating districts hubbed in Chicago, the state aims to meet requirements to create districts favorable for black and Latino representation.
But the League of Women Voters, which failed in efforts to give map-drawing control to a nonpartisan group, said the proposed maps ignore the goal of keeping together similar communities. Instead, it says, the maps protect incumbents.
“That sense of entitlement is, frankly, totally unfortunate and disappointing,” Ms. Schaafsma said.
Lawmakers with city and suburban constituencies said they give equal attention to both. State Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, said she maintains strong relationships with her suburban mayors, even though her home and district headquarters are in Chicago.