Plan to radically reshape 6th Congressional District is drawing criticism

A plan to radically reshape Illinois' suburban 6th Congressional District and potentially pit two incumbent representatives against each other for one seat is drawing criticism.

Represented by two-term Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove, the current 6th District includes parts of the Northwest and West suburbs. It contains chunks of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

The district's boundaries will change ahead of the June 2022 primary election because Illinois' population decreased between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, costing the state one of its 18 congressional representatives.

The latest proposal for the 6th, released Saturday, eliminates the portions of Lake, McHenry and Kane counties now in the district, as well as portions of northwestern DuPage and northwestern Cook counties. Conversely, it expands east to include more of southwestern Cook County.

It would have much of the West and Southwest suburbs within its boundaries, including Downers Grove, Lombard, Villa Park, Lisle, Westmont, LaGrange, Hickory Hills, Orland Park, Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge and Tinley Park.

It also would move 3rd District U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, a first-term Democrat from La Grange, into the proposed 6th District, setting up a possible primary with Casten.

Newman could seek reelection in the 3rd District, as members of Congress are not required to live in the district they represent.

A Casten campaign spokesman declined to comment on the proposed map. Newman's office didn't respond to interview requests.

The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project examined the proposed map for partisan fairness, competitiveness and geographic features and tweeted that it "gets F's across the board."

The group criticized Illinois' legislative mapmakers for creating boundaries that give Democratic incumbents "significant" advantage, for creating districts that aren't compact and for splitting counties more than typically is done.

Political experts generally agree that the proposed map gives Democrats a 14-3 district advantage over Republicans.

All 17 of Illinois' proposed congressional seats, including the 6th, are "outside of the competitive zone," the group said on Twitter.

Diversity may play a role in lumping Casten and Newman together in one district, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Analysts say the proposed boundaries for the 3rd - stretching from Chicago to the West suburbs - were drawn to create a new Hispanic-heavy district.

If all the Northeast Illinois congressional districts are being drawn to elect Democrats and one specifically is being drawn to boost a candidate favored by Hispanic voters, an incumbent has to be the odd lawmaker out, Redfield said.

"(If) the 6th is going to elect a Democrat ... putting Newman and Casten together reflects a choice to increase diversity to try to strengthen the Democratic Party base in Illinois over a choice to maintain progressive representation," he said.

The fact that Newman and Casten are among the least senior members of the state's Democratic delegation could be a "significant factor," too, said Lauren Beth Gash, a former state representative who now leads the Lake County Democratic organization.

Republican congressional hopeful Justin Burau, a declared candidate in the 6th District, blasted the proposed boundaries.

Burau's Winfield home and some neighboring communities have been drawn into the 3rd District.

"Democrats completely took away the voice of what used to be the heart of the 6th District," Burau said Wednesday. "(They) continue to show that they are more concerned with partisan politics than a fair map."

Burau might still run in the 6th but won't decide for sure until a map is finalized.

"I got into this race for the right reasons, to make a difference," he said. "Once Democrats have made their gerrymandered map official, my team and I will see what makes the most sense to bring the voice back to the people of our community."

Another GOP candidate in the 6th, Niki Conforti of Glen Ellyn, would remain in that district, her campaign confirmed Wednesday.

Rob Cruz of Oak Lawn is the lone GOP candidate for the 3rd District seat at the moment. Like Newman, he would be drawn out of the district and into the 6th by the proposed map.

Cruz said he's "patiently waiting for the final map to be revealed."

The General Assembly is expected to debate the proposed map or a third version Thursday or Friday. Implementation requires legislative approval and a signature from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

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U.S. Rep. Sean Casten talks in Downers Grove earlier this year. He and fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Marie Newman of the 3rd District have been placed into the same proposed congressional district by Illinois legislators. Courtesy of Raul Juarez
U.S. Rep. Marie Newman AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Republican candidate Justin Burau
Republican candidate Niki Conforti
Republican candidate Rob Cruz of Oak Lawn
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