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Half of Prov. Council Skips Meeting to Avoid Redistricting Vote

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

 

The scheduled City Council vote on a proposed redraw of the city’s 15 wards was canceled Tuesday after the seven Council members expected to support the new map did not show up for the vote, leaving the meeting without a quorum..

Council Majority Leader and chairman of the redistricting committee Seth Yurdin was seen exiting City Hall shortly after 5 p.m. and the six other supporting votes –Council President Michael Solomon, finance chairman John Igliozzi, Terry Hassett, Nick Narducci, David Salvatore and Wilbur Jennings— were not seen in the building.

Ward 2 Councilman Sam Zurier, who was expected to be the deciding vote, was not in attendance due a detached retina.

Several dozen angry city residents attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the new map, but wound up cheering loudly when it was announced that a vote would not take place. Some Council members said they were disappointed in their colleagues who didn’t show up.

“I feel that it was disrespectful,” Councilwoman Sabina Matos said. “When you don’t get your way, you don’t run away with the ball. They are running away with the ball.”

Councilman Flips Vote

Council leadership was confident it had at least an eight-vote majority heading into Tuesday, but the opposition was able to convince Ward 6 Councilman Michael Correia to vote against the proposed map.

“I did say [leadership] had my commitment,” Correia said. “Buy my conscience wasn’t right. “

Correia’s change of heart and Zurier’s absence made the vote a 7-7 tie, which is why the rest of the Council chose not to attend the meeting at all.

“I have an obligation not just to the leadership of this Council, I have an obligation to the taxpayers of this city,” Correia said.

More Majority-Minority Wards

Prior to the vote, Council members were expected to be given a five page report produced by Kimball Brace –the $126,374 consultant hired to help redraw the district— which broke down why the proposed map was the best option.

Those in favor of the map have consistently said it helps restore previously divided neighborhoods and creates more cohesive wards. The proposal also gives the city five majority-Hispanic wards (up from four) and ten majority-minority wards (up from nine). But Yurdin has been criticized because he stands to benefit from becoming the only Councilman to represent downtown, which would give him control of the developing Route 195 property.

The need to redraw the maps at all comes because, according to the latest census data, all three wards on the East Side lost population while the wards on the western side of the city grew significantly. Yurdin’s district (Ward 1) lost about 500 residents while Wards 2 and 3 combined to lose nearly 1,800 voters. Wards 6 and 7 saw the largest growth in population over the last ten years. Ward 6, which is represented by first-term Councilman Michael Correia, picked up 2,134 new residents and Igliozzi’s ward grew by 1,388 residents. Only six of the city’s 15 wards increased population since the 2000 census.

Correia said he voiced concern about the way the process was handled and accused Brace of being unprepared when Council members asked for more information. He said the process wasn’t fair, but noted that the group of opposing Councilmen is willing to discuss a new map.

“We’re willing to sit down with them,” Correia said. “We’re here. They’re not here.”

Yurdin: We Have the Support We Need

An hour after the crowd left City Hall, Yurdin returned to field questions about his decision to leave the building before the meeting. He said he chose to leave because Zurier —the deciding vote— was unable to attend.

“I think we have somebody who supports the plan that wasn’t here,” Yurdin said. “It’s a good plan. It’s important for the city.”

Yurdin acknowledged the claims of gerrymandering in some parts of the city, but said it would be unfortunate if politics got in the way of a plan that is right for Providence. He said he doesn’t anticipate many changes to the proposed map.

“I think we have the support we need,” Yurdin said.

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