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Map of new Illinois districts released after secret deliberations

John Cullerton

John Cullerton

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Updated: August 28, 2011 12:22AM

SPRINGFIELD — The number of legislative districts in the state Senate with a majority of African-American voters would shrink, while Latinos could see their voice grow louder under newly drawn legislative maps made public Thursday by Senate Democrats.

Because of a 17-percent decline in African-American population figures in the city, cartographers for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) created seven districts with a majority of black voters, compared to eight now, Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

And Latinos, whose population jumped in the 2010 census, would have majority voting blocs in five Senate districts instead of the four districts where that now is the case, she said.

Aides to Cullerton, whose office oversaw the drawing of the 59 Senate districts, said legislative mapmakers adhered to constitutional and federal Voting Rights Act requirements in crafting a map.

“We used the Constitutional boundaries that have been given to us about how we should accomplish this goal,” Phelon said. “We respected all one-person-one vote principles, and the districts do reflect that. The districts contain equal populations.”

Phelon said that while the number of African-American majority districts stands to shrink, the actual number of black legislators in the Senate could stay the same.

One district now occupied by an African-American senator that would dip slightly below the 50-percent threshold of black voters is represented by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood).

Under the last remap, nearly 59 percent of voters were African-American; but with this map, that percentage would dip to about 49 percent, according to census data compiled by the Senate Democrats.

A Democratic source familiar with Lightford’s district indicated she would remain “highly competitive” despite having fewer African-American voters.

Other African-American senators saw their Chicago districts elongated into some far-reaching swathes of suburbia to account for the exodus of black voters from the city.

State Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), for example, would get a district that would start on the South Side near East 75th Street and the Chicago Skyway and traverse south through parts of Calumet City and Sauk Village and wind up in Momence in Will County.

Cullerton’s mapmakers were not kind to some of the chamber’s 22 Republican members, including Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). Newly-seated Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) was merged into her district.

Also in the Republican suburbs, newly seated Sen. Tom Johnson (R-West Chicago) was put into the same district as Sen. John Millner (R-Carol Stream), again meaning one likely won’t return to the Senate.

Downstate senators David Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) and Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) were jammed into the same southern Illinois district while Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) and Sen. Christine Johnson (R-Shabbona) faced the same fate in their northern Illinois district.

The once-a-decade redistricting process remains as one of the top agenda items facing state lawmakers as an end-of-month adjournment deadline looms at the state Capitol.

Thursday’s release of the Senate maps sets up the possibility of a vote next week in that chamber. Hearings on the map are scheduled for noon Saturday at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago and at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol.

“Today’s release is part of the aggressive effort we’ve taken to engage the public in the redistricting process,” said Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee. “Because of the advances and availability of web-based technology, anyone with an Internet connection can view this proposal.”

A spokeswoman for Radogno said GOP staffers were getting their first glimpse of the Democratically-drawn maps and were still digesting boundary shifts.

“There have been numerous hearings, obviously, citizens providing their input. But the actual drawing of the map was done behind closed doors, and those doors were accessible to a select few, it appears,” Radogno spokeswoman Patty Schuh said.

Earlier in the week, Cullerton’s staff refused even to divulge what office the maps were being drawn in on the fourth floor of the Stratton Office Building next to the Capitol, reflecting the heightened political sensitivities of the process.

“Democrat lawmakers have obviously seen their maps and seen a map in totality or by district. They have not shared it with us. We’ll review it just as the public does,” Schuh said.

Late Thursday, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) would not confirm when House or congressional maps would be released for public inspection.

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