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David Damron | Sentinel Staff Writer
August 13, 2001
A Hispanic voting-rights group wants Orlando's city leaders to craft a new political map that maximizes the number of Hispanics in a single district and includes major business centers.
Both are needed to help a growing Hispanic population gain representation, raise political funds and wield political clout, the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Coalition for Fairness in Representation maintains.
But a plan that a Redistricting Advisory Committee will deliver to the City Council at an 11 a.m. workshop today accomplishes neither, they say.
"We thought we'd be listened to," said Ayme Smith, a coalition member. She said the redistricting committee too hastily discarded other proposals that addressed both concerns.
But an Orlando planner who helped craft the final plan the committee approved says the coalition spoke at all nine public meetings, and its fight to expand Hispanic representation in Commissioner Betty Wyman's District 2 from roughly 40 percent to 42 percent is only one concern among many that must be considered. The committee rejected that coalition proposal.
"I do believe the coalition was offered ample opportunity to be heard," Orlando senior planner Bruce Hossfield said. "And I need to emphasize the differences here are slight."
Other factors they have to consider include keeping neighborhoods together in a district and assuring they have an equal number of houses and apartments where voting patterns are different, Hossfield said.
But Smith said a 2 percent difference in District 2 isn't trivial. In low-turnout city elections, a few hundred voters can swing a race, she said. "And an opportunity to speak [at public meetings] doesn't mean that they listen," Smith said.
The fight highlights the stakes involved when city leaders sit down every 10 years to redraw political boundaries.
The reason they do it is because population changes over time, and the law requires every voter to get an equal say.
For instance, District 4 held by Commissioner Patty Sheehan lost 10,000 people in the 1990s when the Naval Training Center closed. The district's borders have to capture more people this time. At the other extreme, Commissioner Ernest Page's District 6 has grown to 45,145 residents. To even out the districts, each should have about 31,000 residents.
David Damron | El Sentinel
August 25, 2001
Everyone agrees Hispanics have arrived on Orlando's political stage.
But finding consensus on how to make sure that civic muscle can flex itself is far more elusive.
Two competing visions have emerged after weeks of hearings on the city's redistricting plans. It's a process that occurs every 10 years after the Census count to ensure that each person has an equal vote. With the Hispanic population more than doubling since 1990, the group has the most at stake as new political lines are drawn.
One vision holds that a smaller number of Hispanics in Orlando's District 2 still makes for a strong voice in city politics because it keeps neighborhoods closer together, and it includes more Hispanic homeowners -- who tend to vote more often.
"You're going to have a more effective Hispanic community if they're all in one place," said Orange County Republican Party Chairman Lew Oliver. "You've created a stable base."
The final Redistricting Advisory Committee plan does that, Oliver said, himself a member of that panel.
However, Orlando's elected leaders have the final say. They will start from the committee plan and draft a final boundary blueprint at hearings next month. Once done, they will lock in district borders for the next decade.
But before they do that, members of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Coalition for Fair Representation want city leaders to consider a district design that holds more Hispanic residents as well as a center of economic commerce -- like part of Orlando International Airport. This could deliver more clout to the increasingly dominant segment of that community, even if the district's boundaries are more spread out.
Coalition member Ayme Smith says that her group put together such a proposal, but the city's redistricting committee largely ignored it. The committee should have worked harder to find a solution that met some of their demands, she said.
Nearly 190,000 people live in Orlando. Splitting that up into six equal districts means each one must have about 31,000.
In creating these districts, city leaders must consider a variety of factors. The district must be relatively compact and contiguous. And any new boundaries must also preserve similar communities, political subdivisions and basic cores of the last district.
But, according to voting rights laws, minorities cannot lose voting power in a redistricting.
With the Hispanic population in District 2 dropping from the current level of 12,797 to 12,190, Smith fears they are losing power. At the very least, she said, the committee did not "maximize" Hispanics' strength by going with a differently drawn district.
Orlando Assistant City Attorney Amy Iennaco said the small loss in Hispanic population would not be enough to hurt their chances to elect a Hispanic official.
Now the fight goes to the City Council, and the public can weigh in, too.
On Sept. 10, the Council takes up the committee's proposal at 7 p.m. in the Dover Shores Community Center, at 1400 Gaston Foster Road. The Council picks a final political boundary set-up at its 2:00 p.m. meeting Sept. 24 at City Hall, 400 S Orange Ave.
Mayor Glenda Hood said earlier this month that she suspects some changes would be made before they finally approve any plan.
August 27, 2001
Our position: School Board members are putting re-election ahead of Hispanic representation.
Orange County School Board members have decided to get themselves re-elected at the expense of Hispanics.
Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in Orange County. The number of Hispanics in the county has soared in the past decade to 18.8 percent of the county's population and 22.9 percent of the student population, yet no Hispanics serve on the Orange County School Board.
That fact alone should motivate School Board members to consider Hispanic neighborhoods as it redraws its political boundaries. If School Board members were committed to fair representation, they would see to it that at least two of the school district's seven political zones had Hispanic populations big enough to be heard on Election Day.
But board members tied the hands of an advisory committee considering new boundaries by ordering the group to take board members' homes into consideration. In other words, they wanted to make sure they got re-elected.
Hispanics? What Hispanics?
So far, only board member Linda Sutherland, who doesn't plan to run again, has told the group not to worry about her home's location. That gave the committee some flexibility, because so many Hispanics live in her southeast Orange County district.
But the flexibility wasn't enough, because Hispanics don't live just in southeast Orange. They live throughout the county, including strong concentrations in the districts of board members Rick Roach, Kat Gordon and Barbara Rushing. The advisory committee managed to come up with five new boundary proposals, but none significantly increases Hispanic political power. The best the group could come up with is one zone in each proposal where Hispanics comprise 30.6 to 33.8 percent of the population. That's unacceptable, especially given that a greater percentage of Hispanics than non-Hispanics is younger than voting age.
Before the advisory committee meets again on Tuesday, the six remaining School Board members -- Karen Ardaman, Susan Arkin, Bert Carrier, Ms. Gordon, Mr. Roach and Mrs. Rushing -- should tell the group not to worry about their residences.
That release would leave the committee free to try again to draw boundary lines that would give Hispanics more clout in at least two districts.
The committee shouldn't try to gerrymander districts, drawing lines in odd configurations to capture every Hispanic neighborhood. Rather, it should seek to create logical, compact districts where Hispanic numbers are large enough to wield influence at the polls.
If School Board members truly care about the families they serve, they would cooperate in every way possible to allow such boundaries. Elected representatives from diverse backgrounds make it easier for a board to find creative solutions to complex problems.
School Board members should show more concern for fair representation than protecting their political hides.