Local and countywide elected officials asked members of the Senate Redistricting Subcommittee to protect current legislative lines in DuPage County during the map drawing process.
The elected officials, primarily from eastern communities within the county, expressed the idea that DuPage County is a unique community of common interests–interests not always shared with communities in Cook County. A new legislative map could divide some of the eastern municipalities, like Elmhurst and Downers Grove, and join them in a legislative district with Cook County municipalities. Those communities are currently represented by Republican legislators. Adding portions of those communities to a district made up of mostly Cook County communities would dilute the Republican stronghold of DuPage County.
Every 10 years the political lines must be redrawn to account for population shifts recorded in the U.S. Census. The legislature is charged with redrawing the political maps. With Democrats in charge of both legislative houses, they are free to draw the maps as they see fit with little Republican input. The Illinois Constitution calls for legislative districts to be contiguous, compact and of equal population.
The majority of the speakers recognized the likely possibility that at least some majority Republican districts will be diluted with the larger Democratic majority in Cook County.
Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni said he wants to see his town remain as whole as possible in the redistricting process. Currently, Elmhurst is divided into two House districts and two Senate districts. He said the city has strong representation, and the people have easy access to their lawmakers. He said if a small portion of Elmhurst is added to a majority Cook County district, then some of Elmhurst’s citizenry would lose a voice in Springfield.
DiCianni said Elmhurst has different legislative concerns from towns to the east, especially since the city has a water reclamation district as well as a unit school district.
“There’s a significant separation between Elmhurst and the towns to the east. We have different wants and needs,” DiCianni said.
Echoing DiCianni was Paul Fichtner, a Republican member of the DuPage County Board and a former Elmhurst alderman. Fichtner said he understands how difficult it is to draw political maps, referring to redistricting going on at the county level. He said the legislature should give consideration to keeping DuPage border communities whole because of the differing philosophies, wants and needs of Cook communities.
DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, an Elmhurst resident, said the county has a unique identity. Since the split off from Cook County in the late 19th century, DuPage has enjoyed being intact within its boundaries and has remained largely self-sufficient, Cronin said.
“Let’s keep a map that’s been fair and equitable, let’s keep a map that demonstrates our family features if you may,” said Cronin, a former state senator.
Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican and member of the redistricting subcommittee, asked Cronin if it was true that DuPage residents looked to the uniqueness of the county like a marketable brand.
“There’s something significant about this community that deserves its own brand of representation,” Cronin said.
DuPage County has a population of 916,924 according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Cronin said the population only grew by about 12,000 people in the past 10 years. Cronin said the areas of the county that showed significant growth were the western communities, particularly the Naperville area, while the eastern communities like Elmhurst and Addison lost population.
Also testifying on behalf of preserving DuPage legislative districts were Mark Novak, an Addison Township trustee, and Addison Mayor Larry Hartwig.
But not everyone who testified wants to preserve the existing legislative districts. Bob Peickert, an Elmhurst resident and chairman of the DuPage County Democratic Party, said he believes the voting rights of the growing number of minorities in the county need to be protected. He said minority voters make up about 30 percent of the county's population.
“There is a changing constituency in DuPage County, and they need to be represented fairly in Springfield. The districts that overlap Cook and DuPage counties are a logical starting point,” Peickert said.
Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee meeting in Elmhurst, said he expects a map to be completed by the middle of May, but said there is no solid target date. Once a map is completed, the Senate will seek public commentary, Harmon said. A new political map must be approved by May 31.