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St. Louis County Council redistricting compromise collapses

John Bowman, Democratic chairman (center), listens in on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, during a meeting of the county bipartisan redistricting board at the St. Louis County government building in Clayton. The commission deadlocked on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, sending the matter to the federal judiciary.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
John Bowman, Democratic chairman, listens on Nov. 1 during a meeting of the county bipartisan redistricting board. The commission deadlocked on Monday, sending the matter to the federal judiciary.

An effort to redraw St. Louis County’s seven council districts collapsed on Monday after Democrats sought a map that, among other things, drew Councilman Tim Fitch out of his district.

Failure to approve the map likely means a federal judge will now redraw council districts, as has been the case for the past few decades.

Before Monday, Republicans and Democrats were optimistic that they could break precedentand approve a redistricting plan that made relatively minor changes to the council’s seven districts. That would have maintained four safe Democratic seats, one safe Republican seat and two swing seats.

Republicans and Democrats met for a few hours on Sunday to try to hash out relatively minor differences. But on Monday, Democrats presented a map that drew Fitch’s home out of the 3rd District — and moved University City to the 5th District. That city is currently split between the 1st and 5th Districts.

Democrats contended that the proposal aligned with their goals of trying to keep most of the county’s municipalities intact in their districts — and added that it didn’t make sense to create a map simply to accommodate Fitch. He told St. Louis Public Radio last week he was planning to run for reelection in the 3rd District, which has historically been GOP-leaning but has become more competitive in recent years.

“And we personally don’t believe that we should change our map to accommodate one individual,” said Democratic commissioner Dana Sandweiss. “We believe that this map represents a fair map for St. Louis County going forward.”

But Republicans decried the effort against Fitch, who has clashed with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat. They also questioned why the Democratic members couldn’t try to smooth out differences between two maps that were produced at the commission’s meeting last week.

“I’m not inherently an emotional person, but I just find it insulting to have our time wasted like that,” said Republican commissioner Adam Bohn.

Fitch, who watched the meeting virtually, said: “The last I knew, I thought this had all been worked out. Then at the last minute I’m drawn out of the district again.”

“I can only assume that was for one particular reason and that was to write me out of my district,” Fitch said.

The commission voted 7-7 on the Democratic map, as well as7-7 on a GOP map.

Consensus was always going to be a challenge, since success requires nine votes. With the commission split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, that would require at least two people from the other party to cross over.

The process will now shift to the federal judiciary. When the commission deadlocked in 2011, a federal magistrate drew lines that made fairly modest changes to the county council map.

Democrats had initially put forward a more sweeping redrawing of the county council map. But they retreated from that proposalafter fierce criticism from African American political officials, mainly because it substantially reduced the Black population of the 1st District.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.