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Public Testimony to the Cook County Redistricting Committee

Prepared by Valerie F. Leonard, Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance May 8, 2012


Good afternoon. My name is Valerie Leonard. I am a resident of North Lawndale and Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. The Lawndale Alliance is a neighborhood association of local residents who come together to address issues of concern through grassroots community organizing, advocacy and community outreach. We worked with Commissioner Robert Steele, other elected officials and community based organizations around the state of Illinois to provide voter education workshops relating to the State's redistricting process last year. We also supported UCCRO's efforts to develop a comprehensive redistricting proposal that optimized opportunities for minorities and communities of interest to elect candidates of their choice. We are here today to provide you with information on North Lawndale, our community of interest; advocate for maintaining voter strength in African American districts, and to enlist your support in advocating for changes in the way the state accounts for prisoners in the Census. Community of Interest The North Lawndale community is located approximately 3 miles west of the Chicago Downtown. As of 2005, the racial composition was 93.85% African American, 5.27% Hispanic, 3.19% White, .2% Asian, and 3.58% of some other race. The community continues to struggle with issues of high rates of poverty and unemployment, blighted commercial districts, high crime, poor performing schools, high mortgage foreclosure rates, lack of access to decent and affordable housing, and limited access to health care. While we have a number of challenges, we also have a number of assets, including Douglas Park designed by the legendary landscape architect Jens Jensen and the Historic K-Town District, one of the largest concentrations of historic Greystone houses in the City of Chicago. The community is held together by its history and culture, which includes block clubs, community gardening, basketball games and gospel festivals. North Lawndale nurtured the talents of such people as former President Bobbi Steele, Dina Washington, Ramsey Lewis, Otis Clay, Koko Taylor, Cicero Blake, Mark Aguire, Darryl Stingley, Mickey Johnson and Michael Scott, to name a few.

African American Districts A review of the Census statistics indicates that, overall, the Cook County population decreased by 3%, while Chicago's population decreased by 6.9% during the same period. In spite of the fact that Chicago lost nearly 200,000 people, the 2nd District maintains a population of 306,696, which is 1,127 higher than the target district totals set by the Redistricting Committee. The racial composition of the voting age population is 31.91% White, 51.61% African American, 9.83%

Asian and 5.76% Latino. Approximately 35,912 of 2nd District residents, or 11.7%, are from North Lawndale. Other African American districts across Cook County, including Districts 1,3,4 and 5, have voting age populations ranging from 61%-75% African American. They also have population variances ranging from 15,149 to 26,833 below the target population of 306,696. Much of this population decline could be attributed to loss of public housing and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. We respectfully request that any redistricting be done to preserve the five majority African American districts with land mass in Chicago, with a minimum of 57% African American voting age population, where possible. Majority African American districts are preferred to coalition districts to keep from diluting our voting power. The North Lawndale community is complex, and has a unique set of issues and assets that require special attention. We ask that you keep the North Lawndale Community intact, and situated in the 2nd District. For our purposes, the North Lawndale Community is defined as the City of Chicago's Community Area 77. We also ask that, to the greatest extent possible that the 2nd District boundaries incorporate the new boundaries for the Illinois 9th Legislative District and 24th Ward. This would allow social service providers as well as elected officials to better coordinate community services and other resources. Treatment of Prisoners in Census Count
Finally, we ask that you advocate for changes in the way the State accounts for prisoners in the Census. Under current Illinois law, incarcerated persons are not counted in the Census numbers of the community from which they originate, but in the populations of the towns in which they are incarcerated. As a result, the Census numbers in Chicago for African Americans is significantly undercounted, while the numbers in some Downstate communities is inflated by over 95%. On top of that, representatives from the districts in which the prisoners are incarcerated have a history of voting against legislation that will enhance education, job training and rehabilitation of prisoners. This arrangement does not adequately fulfill the spirit of the one man one vote convention connoted by our Constitution. On the other hand, legislators from the prisoners originating communities tend to be the ones advocating for improved education and rehabilitation services for prisoners who are not counted in their districts population. The same is true at the County and Ward level. To add insult to injury, Downstate towns are receiving entitlement funds for Community Development Block Grants and Social Service Development Block Grants that benefit their communities, but not the prisoners. When the prisoners return home, their originating communities are the ones who must help them transition by providing housing, job training and other social services. Unfortunately, the originating communities dont get their full share of funding because the prisoners were counted in the Downstate towns Census statistics. I respectfully request that Cook County lobby the State Legislature to pass laws legislation to ensure that prisoners are included in the Census counts from their originating communities. In closing, we thank you for your time and consideration, and hosting this public forum. If you have any questions, I may be reached at 773-521-3137 or valeriefleonard@msn.com.

North Lawndale Community