Immigrants draw lines for change in Minneapolis

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2012 - 11:05 PM

Activists and redistricting officials are drafting revised political wards in Minneapolis to consolidate and increase influence.

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Abdulkadir Warsame, a local Somali-American, is working on a plan to reframe political wards to better reflect the neighborhoods they represent.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The increasing influence of immigrants in Minneapolis shows up in the bustle of Latino plazas and Somali malls, from East Lake Street to Cedar-Riverside -- but not on the dais of the City Council, where two of 13 representatives are members of racial minorities.

Ward boundaries divide two fast-growing groups, Latinos and East African immigrants, in ways that some redistricting officials and immigrant activists say dilute their voting power and lessen the likelihood that they will win election.

Some see an opportunity to broaden political participation through the once-a-decade redistricting process underway in Minneapolis, where a 24-member group is studying how to revise ward lines to reflect demographic changes following the U.S. census.

The panel's latest draft map -- to be presented at a meeting Wednesday -- would shift more blacks and Latinos into the Sixth Ward, which now spans Ventura Village, Phillips West, Whittier and Stevens Square-Loring Heights. The proposal increases the combined Latino and black population from 48 to 63 percent by expanding the ward to take in part of Cedar-Riverside, including Riverside Plaza, home to many of the city's Somali-Americans. It also adds Midtown Phillips and parts of East Phillips to boost the Hispanic population, while shifting a chunk of Whittier into another ward.

The Redistricting Group wants "to increase opportunities for minority voters," member Andrea Rubinstein said at a meeting last week. "There have been enormous demographic changes in Minneapolis ... and this is a great opportunity for us to recognize those things."

Minneapolis' population of 382,578 barely budged in the last decade. Yet as blacks increasingly left north and south Minneapolis, Latino and East African immigrants continued their influx into the city from the 1990s. Minneapolis is now 36 percent non-white, up about 1 percentage point in the past decade, and 15 percent of the population is foreign-born.

Political representation has not kept pace. The City Council's only racial minorities are Robert Lilligren, an American Indian, and Don Samuels, who is black.

"What would it do for our kids to have a council member from our community?" asked Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali-American who lives in Cedar-Riverside. "It would encourage them; it would get more people to participate in the process."

After Somali-American Mohamud Noor lost the DFL primary in last year's special election in Senate District 59, Warsame and others who campaigned for him brainstormed about their next step. They consulted a former state demographer and formed a committee called Citizens for Fair Redistricting, then submitted a map proposing three wards with higher concentrations of minorities and immigrants.

Most of Minnesota's 32,000 Somalis live in Minneapolis. And the number of the city's East African-born residents jumped 53 percent to 14,497 in the last decade.

Terra Cole, a member of the redistricting panel, said that the group's proposal had influenced their approach.

"We didn't see what they saw, and it got us to think differently," she said.

The North Side's Fifth Ward is more than half black, but few of those residents are of East African descent. Redistricting Group Chairman Barry Clegg said it will be impossible to create an additional ward in which one minority group makes up more than 50 percent of the population; other parts of Minneapolis lack a similarly high concentration of one non-white community.

All of these ideas are fluid, as the Redistricting Group meets over the next few weeks to continue refining a new map and hear from the public. The deadline is April 3.

Hispanics have been less visible in redistricting hearings this year, even though their population in Minneapolis jumped 37 percent to about 40,000 since 2000.

Efforts are underway to boost political participation in the community, which is mostly Mexican. Mariano Espinoza, a trainer for political leadership at Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network who lives in Powderhorn, said he is meeting with Latinos in south Minneapolis about redistricting and other public issues.

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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