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Illinois Democrats target GOP with redrawing of congressional map

The series nips tucks Illinois' congressional boundaries thwere unveiled by Democrats put four incumbent suburban Republicans inhostile Democratic turf or

The series of nips and tucks to Illinois' congressional boundaries that were unveiled by Democrats put four incumbent suburban Republicans into hostile Democratic turf or in potential primaries against one another. | AP file

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Updated: July 7, 2011 2:41PM

SPRINGFIELD — In an unmistakable political smack-down, Illinois’ Democratic mapmakers Friday moved to carve up the city and suburbs in a bid to retake a string of congressional seats lost to Republicans last fall.

The series of nips and tucks to the region’s congressional boundaries that were unveiled put five incumbent suburban Republicans into hostile Democratic turf or in potential primaries against one another.

The Democrats also did favors for their own, moving to eliminate a well-funded, possible primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and extending a finger of the Hispanic district represented by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to include his new Portage Park home.

The redistricting is designed to reflect population shifts revealed in the Census. As part of that, Illinois is losing one of its 19 congressional seats.

But the reconstituted political map that could be voted on in Springfield this weekend has Republican congressmen now contemplating whether to move, represent their old turf from outside as federal law allows or contemplate retirement from Congress.

The footwork by Springfield’s ruling Democrats produced a predictable outcry from Republicans, who described the congressional redistricting plan as a political sham designed to preserve city congressional seats at the expense of the suburbs.

“It looks like a cynical partisan map designed to deny suburban voters a voice,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

But state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) defended the new congressional boundaries, saying they offer more political toss-ups and are more compact than the 2001 map brokered between former U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former U.S. Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.).

“This is dramatically more improved than that in terms of its shape and lack of partisanship. I mean 10 years ago, the incumbents cut a deal and the Legislature codified it,” Cullerton said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Now, we have eight competitive districts, which I think is an improvement because if you just send partisans to Congress, no one is willing to compromise,” Cullerton said.

As was the case with other congressional districts in Chicago that faced steep population declines, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) saw his urban district push farther out into the suburbs. His South Side 1st Congressional District extended southwest into the rural farmlands of northern Will County.

Dan Lipinski’s Southwest Side 3rd Congressional District includes an umbilical cord-like connection — a block wide in some places — to Bridgeport, Mayor Daley’s ancestral home. Lipinski’s district, at its farthest point to the south, touches Lockport in Will County.

Mapmakers were kind to Lipinski, choosing to position the Burr Ridge home of wealthy businessman John Atkinson, who had formed an exploratory committee to challenge Lipinski in a primary, two blocks outside of the congressman’s district. Atkinson had amassed more than $500,000 in a bid to unseat Lipinski.

The North Side 5th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Michael Quigley (D-Ill.) was redrawn so that it stretches from the lakefront through points that include Wrigleyville, O’Hare Airport and west-suburban Hinsdale – home to long-time U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who would reside in Quigley’s district and could face a potential matchup against him.

Biggert was not the only Republican drawn into hostile Democratic territory.

The Kenilworth home of U.S. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) was drawn into the near north suburban 9th Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), making Dold’s current 10th Congressional District turf an essentially open seat.

A similar fate involved first-term U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), whose Manteno residence wound up being placed in the South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

The 11th Congressional District that Kinzinger represents and was mapped out of is the district where mapmakers placed Lipinski’s potential challenger, Atkinson. Atkinson could be considered a Democratic frontrunner in that newly drawn district, which would include Democratic areas of Joliet and Aurora.

“When I woke up this morning, I was living in the 11th Congressional District, not the 3rd District,” said Atkinson, who said he has not decided which district to run in.

One other newly elected suburban Republican, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), was left with an equally uncertain political future. Walsh’s McHenry home is in the same, sprawling, seven-county 14th Congressional District now represented by U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), setting up a potential primary between those two.

Congressmen are not legally required to live inside the boundaries of the district they represent — only within the state — but living outside the district can present political problems.

In response to the sobering political realities imposed by Democrats, the state’s 11-member GOP congressional delegation issued a blistering response about boundaries they said were produced “under the cover of darkness.”

“We are very concerned that this proposal does not fairly represent the significant growth that has occurred in the Hispanic community. The proposed map carves up towns and communities with little regard to the values and beliefs of the people who live there.

“This proposal appears to be little more than an attempt to undo the results of the elections held just six months ago and we will take whatever steps necessary to achieve a map that more fairly represents the people of Illinois,” the statement concluded. “They deserve nothing less.”

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