The El Paso Times NORTHEAST EL PASO LEGEND POPULATION NORTHWEST 54,221 CENTRAL 53,750 NORTHEAST 53.352 SOUTH CENTRAL 53,650 EAST 53,478 LOWER VALLEY 53.810 TOTAL 322,261 council members adamantly opposed it, claiming it would lead to ward-heeling and bossism, factionalism on the council, and increased municipal costs because of aldermanic competition for services in the districts. The only woman on the council, whose election in 1975 shattered its men’s club atmosphere, said women running for council seats would stand to lose the most if at-large voting was dropped in favor of single-member representation, and she opposed the change. But the campaign for a new council structure won out. Single-member districts carried by a comfortable 60-40 percent margin. The amendment was decided in the white neighborhoods of Single-member districts El Paso divides By Ed Curda El Paso Against the wishes of the mayor, aldermen and the local Chamber of Commerce, El Paso is moving toward single-member district representation on its city council. Less than 13 percent of the city’s voters went to the polls Jan. 15 to vote on eight amendments to the city charter. Five of the eight passed, including one to change the present at-large method of electing council members to a singlemember district system. The city has until 1979 to change its political way of living. District representation was not among the burning issues initially considered by a charter amendments committee formed several months ago. Higher salaries for the mayor and aldermen, a limitation on their terms of office, and the removal of the police chief’s job from civil service weighed far more heavily on the committee’s mind. But as hearings and meetings wore on, single-member district representation raised its head. Oddly enough, the major push came from anglos and not from the majority Mexican-American population. 22 The Texas Observer The issue was championed by two groups. On the ideological-legal front was a coalition formed around political science professors from the University of Texas at El Paso. They hammered away at a “one man-one vote” theme and clinched their argument by citing the federal court order against Dallas. Their message was simple: single-member districting is the only fair way to go, and if we don’t do it willingly, we’ll be forced to. 60 percent voted ‘yes’ Allied with the academics was a group of citizen activists in Northeast El Paso who felt it was time they had representation of their own on the council. White and middle class, they were the most vocal about the political neglect produced by the at-large system; they wanted an alderman accountable to them. And so it was that district representation was put on the ballot and promptly began to draw fire. Mayor Don Henderson a Republican in this predominately Democratic city said he knew of no mayor of any city where singlemember districting was adopted that favored it. The Chamber of Commerce came out against it. Two of the four Northeast and East El Paso. The turnout in South El Paso, which is overwhelmingly Mexican-American and perhaps stood to gain the most from district representation, was a disappointing 5 percent, the lowest in the city. El Paso now has two years to establish districts and prepare for “the new system” that was abolished by the “reform” charter of 1907 now in effect. More immediately, the council will grow from four to six aldermen, courtesy of another of the charter amendments that passed. The six elected in April will have a threefold task ahead of them: Finding enough room at the council table for all of them and the mayor to sit comfortably; Dividing department supervisory tasks that had been claimed by four, without starting a major war at city hall; Steering the city towards singlemember districts while placating both those angered by years of political shortsheeting and others unwilling to relinquish power and influence they have held for years under the old dispensation. Ed Curda covers city hall for The El Paso Times.
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