Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Politics' spawn: the gerrymander lives in Cleveland!

You knew reducing the size of Cleveland City Council wouldn't be a simple act of good government. Now that council has approved a new ward map, we really know it.

First, when council president Martin Sweeney got the reduction plan onto November's ballot, we heard it would cut council from 21 members to 17. Then, by November, maybe 19, maybe 17. After the election, thanks to the fine print: nope, we're only reducing it to 19. (Henry Gomez's blog post is the only thing I've read that explains some of this sleight of hand.)

Then, councilpeople put in special requests. Ken Johnson wants the Ken Johnson Recreation Center to stay in his ward, so consultants drew one ward that looks like it's eating another. An old "scorpion tail" ward line around Clifton Blvd. remains there because Jay Westbrook and Dona Brady still can't resolve their turf war from eight years ago.

Next, we found out which two councilpeople got their wards chopped up. No surprise, it's not two Sweeney loyalists. It's mavericks Brian Cummins, who may be out of a job, and Zack Reed, who will have to scramble for another seat but may be able to win and stay on council. Bill Callahan, an Old Brooklyn resident, says Cummins got what he asked for, so Roldo defended him and said losing Cummins would be Cleveland's loss.

Sweeney and council's consultant denied redistricting to eliminate critics. (Here is the council majority's argument for the ward lines.) But some of the new lines look weird and raggedy, the classic sign of redistricting for political purposes. Parts of Slavic Village and Old Brooklyn are thrown into one ward, even though Newburgh Heights and Cuyahoga Heights are in between.

Cummins has taken to Brewed Fresh Daily to blog. An image is worth 1,000 words: he cleverly compares three new wards to the freaky lizard shape in Elbridge Gerry's 1812 redrawing of Massachusetts, which led to the coining of the term gerrymander (Gerry + salamander) -- a creepy animal, politics' spawn.

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