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St. Louis aldermanic wards

ST. LOUIS • The battle over city ward boundaries has begun.

Alderman Phyllis Young and Board President Lewis Reed on Friday introduced a bill that would move hundreds of city blocks into new wards, redistributing residents after the population shifts revealed in the 2010 Census. It ultimately will change each of the city's 28 wards.

The bill is just a placeholder. But Reed and Young, new chair of the Board of Aldermen's Legislation Committee, are already meeting aldermen and moving boundaries.

The two say they are doing everything they can to avoid lifting an entire ward out of north St. Louis and dropping it into the middle of south city — a move that, in 2001, caused "a major, major political fight," said Young.

Instead, Reed and Young are hoping to stretch south the boundaries of northern wards. Southern wards, said Reed, will simply "absorb the ripple coming through."

And that, both say, will mean fewer fights.

In 1981, aldermen moved the 25th ward from the Central West End to the Dutchtown neighborhood, in effect ridding themselves of an alderman. David Pentland, newly elected in the 25th, had taken quick, controversial stances. He called for one regional government for St. Louis and St. Louis County and also signed on to a bill asking voters to shrink the number of wards to 15 — views some might now call prescient.

"He said the Board of Aldermen needs to be reduced," Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., told the Post-Dispatch years ago. "We said, 'We'll start with your ward.'"

Pentland moved to the new ward to the south but lost his re-election bid in 1985.

Similarly, in 2001, the mayor brokered a deal that lifted Sharon Tyus' Ward 20 from far north St. Louis and dropped it miles south, near the Benton Park neighborhood.

The proposition brought such ire from north side aldermen that Irene Smith was famously cited for urinating in a trash can to avoid ceding the floor and losing the filibuster.

She eventually lost the fight; Tyus her job.

President Reed and Alderman Young say they are working hard to avoid such turmoil now.

For the redistricting to stand up in court, each ward's final population cannot deviate from the new average — 11,403 — by more than 5 percent in either direction.

Nor can Reed and Young create wards in which it is harder for black voters, if they so choose, to elect black aldermen.

Yet the northern wards lost nearly 19,000 residents, according to the 2010 Census. The south lost about 14,000. And wards in the central corridor grew by about 4,000 in total.

That means some wards — like Bosley's, which shrunk from 11,800 a decade ago to less than 8,500 now — must grow in size, so as to gain a few thousand residents.

Others — like Young's 7th Ward, downtown, which grew from 12,000 to 14,500 — must shrink their boundaries and pass blocks to other aldermen.

In addition, Reed and Young say they're trying to put some of the neighborhoods, broken between wards in years past, back together.

And the process this year, they say, is kinder, gentler and more inclusive.

"Before, it seems maps have mostly been drawn in smoke-filled back rooms," said Young.

Not this year, they said. In a nondescript City Hall conference room, they've set up a table with a projector, computer and mapping software. They've already met with each alderman twice. And they try out boundary suggestions on the screen in front of them.

Some unfilled boundary requests have been made, of course. ("Can I pick up my sister-in-law? She's a good worker," Young recalled being asked. "It's like, 'No.'")

But in general, Young said, "it's been a good process."

They hope to have a new map to the board within a month.

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