CHICAGO -- A proposed map that redraws Illinois Senate district lines earned mixed reviews Saturday from community groups, which praised the plan for reflecting a growing Latino population and unifying some Asian communities but criticized it for not better strengthening the percentage of black residents in some districts in and around Chicago.
The Illinois Senate Redistricting Committee held the public hearing in Chicago to get comment two days after Democrats proposed legislative districts that create new political turf. The map also lumps some incumbent Republicans into the same territory, which will cost some of them their jobs.
The Senate map would create five majority-Latino districts, up from four. The proposal also creates seven districts whose voting-age populations are more than half black, compared to eight now, along with another district that is just less than 50 percent black, according to data provided by Senate Democrats.
Another district in the northern Chicago area would give Asian voters their largest share of the voting-age population at 23.7 percent.
"We support the proposed map because it also adequately protects other minority groups' interests," said Juan Rangel, CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization in Chicago and a leader of the Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting. "While we are concerned with advancing the interests of the Latino community, we recognize and accept that the Illinois Legislature must strike a balance with other minority groups."
But Dr. Mujahid Ghazi of the South Asian Community Alliance on Chicago's North Side testified that the proposed map further fragments communities of people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
"We have already suffered for 10 years, and now if we suffer another 10 years, it is going to be a great disaster for our community at large," said Ghazi, who was among about two dozen people who signed up to testify during the hearing.
The Legislature is going through the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative districts based on new U.S. Census Bureau numbers. Illinois Democrats are in charge of the process because they control the Legislature and the governor's office. They're rushing to approve the maps by May 31, the scheduled end of the legislative session, but some groups blasted them for waiting until the waning days to wrap up the maps that set the state's political boundaries for the next decade.
The Illinois House has a similar public hearing scheduled for Sunday. The chamber released a map of its proposed new legislative districts Friday. A map that redraws the state's congressional districts has yet to be made public.
Another public meeting on the proposed maps will be held next week in Springfield.
During Saturday's two-hour hearing in Chicago, Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance neighborhood association suggested senators tweak the map to increase the percentage of black voters in two proposed districts in the Chicago area.
But the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community was pleased because the greater Chinatown area in Chicago was largely consolidated in one Senate and one House district.
Still, lawmakers from both the House and Senate could have drawn maps that created more districts that were heavily Latino, said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, which is part of a coalition of Latino nonprofit groups called the Illinois Latino Agenda.
"Our analysis indicates that Latino residents are being short-changed by the current proposals," Puente said.
It's unclear what changes might be made to the proposed redistricting maps.
"We'll take all testimony into consideration and we'll take it under advisement," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, the Senate redistricting committee chairman.