Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) is leading the push for the city-backed Rules Committee ward remap. The Latino Caucus, chaired by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), has proposed a competing ward map. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A small group of alderpeople met at City Hall Sunday morning in an effort to forge a compromise on Chicago’s ward remap instead of sending competing proposals to voters in a June referendum.

But the effort to find common ground on key sticking points didn’t work. Although the meeting, which was live streamed to the public, featured substantive talk about specific areas of contention in redrawing the city’s political boundaries, the two sides emerged without a compromise, sniping that the other wasn’t open to negotiations.

Latino Caucus leaders said there are several ward remap areas where they don’t agree with the city-backed Rules Committee proposal, including the Northwest Side, Southwest Side, the 14th Ward represented by indicted Ald. Ed Burke, the border of the 9th and 10th wards on the Southeast Side and exactly where to relocate the 34th Ward from the Far South Side near downtown to absorb a population boom over the last decade.

It appeared alderpeople who represent those areas would be called into meetings this week, but negotiations broke down after Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who chairs the Black Caucus and supports the Rules Committee map, said even if the two sides reached a deal on other issues, they would still have to confront the main point of contention, whether to include 15 majority Latino wards in the map at the expense of one majority Black ward.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) speaks at a City Council meeting where alderpeople voted on the 2022 budget, on Oct. 27, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The Sunday meeting was convened by Rules Committee chair, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), after a Friday meeting between three members of the Black Caucus and three members of the Latino Caucus was canceled after the sides couldn’t agree on who would participate.

After the meeting, Harris said once she received the formal list of hotspots from the Latino Caucus she would meet with the 32 other alderpeople, including all but one member of the Black Caucus, who support the Rules Committee map before making a decision on how to proceed.

The two-hour plus meeting included just 11 alderpeople in an effort to focus the discussion, but neither side conceded ground on the key sticking point in negotiations: whether a compromise would include 15 majority Latino wards as the Latino Caucus has proposed or the 14 currently included in the Rules Committee map.

“I can’t help you get to 15 wards,” Ervin said.

The Latino Caucus map has 15 Latino majority wards, 16 Black majority wards, the first ever Asian American ward and three minority majority wards.

The map put forth by the city’s Rules Committee has 14 Latino majority wards. It establishes 16 Black majority wards, one Asian American ward and one ward, the 27th, with a Black plurality population.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) reads a paper at a City Council meeting on June 25, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The Latino Caucus has suggested creating a “hybrid ward” that would have a slim majority Latino total population, but a higher voting age population of Black residents. Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), who chairs the committee, told reporters after the meeting that would allow “over the next 10 to 13 years we could grow into the ward, not affecting the change immediately.”

But the offer has been rejected by the Black Caucus, because it would reduce the number of Black majority wards from the current 18 down to 15. 

According to the 2020 census, Chicago’s population is currently 31.4 percent white, 29.9 percent Latino, 28.7 percent Black and 6.9 percent Asian. Both map proposals include the city’s first Asian American majority ward centered around Chinatown. 

The Latino Caucus believes the current ward map, created after the 2010 census, didn’t adequately represent the city’s growing Latino population and have vowed to not accept less than 15 majority Latino wards in the current map.

Both sides said they are prepared to let Chicago voters decide between the competing maps in a June referendum if negotiations continue to be at a standstill. 

“If we reach an impasse, we may need to let the voters speak,” said Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), the vice chair of the Latino Caucus. “We don’t want to, but we also don’t fear a referendum.”

“For the record, Michelle Harris don’t fear a referendum,” Harris responded.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) at a City Council meeting on June 25, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Harris told reporters after the meeting if it were only up to her, the Rules Committee would have already ended negotiations and put their map up for a referendum, but she will consult with her coalition before making a final decision on when to take that step.

City Council has until 40 days before the June 28 primary election to pass a compromise map with a 41 vote supermajority to avoid the referendum. That map, or whichever map wins through a referendum, could still face a court challenge.

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.