CHICAGO — Greater Englewood is one of several communities throughout Chicago carved up into numerous wards and represented by multiple aldermen. While some of those aldermen agree with a prominent community group that wants ward boundaries to be redrawn so they more closely mirror neighborhood lines, others argue it is beneficial to Greater Englewood to be represented by the six aldermen who currently each claim a piece of the neighborhood.
Chicago is set in the coming weeks to launch full-throttle into the decennial task of ward remapping, shining a spotlight on how aldermen think about ward boundaries. And virtually all the aldermen who represent a portion of Greater Englewood, which includes Englewood and West Englewood, will have to contend with shrinking populations in their wards as the Census results show the city’s African American population on the whole has declined.
But despite the city’s waning African American population and swelling Latino and Asian American populations, leaders of the Aldermanic Black Caucus have said they intend to retain all 18 majority-Black wards on the map.
Greater Englewood is represented by five aldermen: Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th), Ald. David Moore (17th), and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th). A small northeast corner of the community is represented by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward, unlike those of other Greater Englewood aldermen, saw a population boom over the past 10 years.
Asiaha Butler, co-founder and president of the resident-led Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), said she first founded her organization in part as a response to the neighborhood’s divided representation in the City Council.
“We felt we were one neighborhood, Greater Englewood, even though we were divided by aldermanic boundaries. Butler told The Daily Line last week, adding that her group’s goal is “that we would be united as one community, Greater Englewood.”
Greater Englewood has been split up among six different wards since at least after the 2000 Census.
Leaders of RAGE are now lobbying aldermen not to draw another ward map that keeps their community divided up among six wards, arguing that making improvements is challenging in a community that is divided up among so many elected officials.
Butler said she doesn’t think most of the aldermen who represent a portion of Greater Englewood consider the community as the main community they represent.
“It’s always been difficult not only to try to get things moving in Englewood, but to have everyone on the same page,” Butler said. “We’ve always felt like the step-children of all the wards — it’s always been that fill-in until we united as RAGE.”
Greater Englewood stands in contrast to neighborhoods like Lincoln Park on the city’s North Side, which largely falls neatly into the 43rd Ward.
During the 2011 ward remap, RAGE advocated for “at least one ward office” to be located in the neighborhood, and leaders have also held candidate forums for six aldermen whose wards cover a portion of Greater Englewood, according to the organization’s website.
Lopez has two ward offices, with one located in West Englewood at 6412 S. Ashland Ave. Taylor’s ward office at 5707-11 S. Wentworth Ave. is located in Washington Park, just across the expressway from the Englewood border. Coleman’s ward office is on Ashland Avenue just north of Garfield Boulevard, which is considered the northern boundary of Englewood.
“When we first got started, a lot of our members would say how confusing it was” to figure out which ward they lived in, Butler said. “Even still, some folks don’t know what ward they’re in if they’re not active voters.”
Having multiple aldermen represent portions of the area also makes it tough to advocate for Greater Englewood with one cohesive voice, according to community leaders.
Butler said it’s not that RAGE wants to shrink the number of Black aldermen or see a decrease in the number of majority-Black wards, but “we definitely felt like the boundaries of this community, although so large…could make more sense if it was in two wards — at best, three.”
All six aldermen who represent portions of Greater Englewood “may not have the same priorities,” but drawing boundaries in such a way that the community is represented by two or three aldermen would “eliminate confusion” and help “to get true development in our community,” Butler said.
Having more than 10 percent of City Council members represent portions of Greater Englewood also means that issues facing the community could be handled differently, depending on whose ward residents live in.
“You have some members who praise their alderman, some who have a totally different experience,” Butler said. “I can definitely say you get different experiences and you can be a block away from each other.”
Still, Butler said she is “happy of the progress our aldermen have made over the years since [RAGE was] founded.”
And Butler said ward remapping this year “seems as if it’s a little bit more transparent” and that “more people are having more conversations” around the topic.
Aldermen weigh in
While community advocates call for more cohesive aldermanic representation in Greater Englewood, opinions on the topic vary among aldermen who represent the area.
“Ultimately, I agree. Englewood has too many hands in it,” Taylor told The Daily Line on Tuesday. “You got five different people with five different visions for Englewood and a community full of needs, and it hasn’t worked for the people.”
Taylor’s 20th Ward covers an eastern portion of Englewood, along with portions of Washington Park, Woodlawn and Back of The Yards.
Taylor said drawing new boundaries needs to include a conversation about “how do we do what’s best for constituents.” The first-term alderwoman said she wants to draw a map that “makes sense” and gets more services like tree-trimming to residents. Taylor said she looks forward to “working hard with surrounding wards to make a ward map that’s healthy for the 20th Ward.”
Lopez, whose ward covers the northwest portion of West Englewood, said the city as a whole needs to “draw maps that are compact.”
State law requires that wards be compact, contiguous and equal in population. But numerous city wards, including Lopez’s, do not appear to be compact, as they snake in and out of communities, picking up portions of streets and alleys.
Keeping a neighborhood “under one roof” in one or two wards ensures “a cohesive plan regardless of who the alderman is,” Lopez said. Back of The Yards has a “unified policy, not only for development” but also in addressing economic and violence issues, he said, adding it has allowed the community to address issues “from a universal perspective.”
But Englewood has been divided into multiple wards, which allows for “multiple opinions on the direction of the community,” Lopez said.
Greater Englewood and other areas of the city often get “chipped up to fill the numeric gap” in surrounding wards, Lopez said. “If you divide Englewood’s population up so it goes toward boosting other wards…you’re never going to see Englewood under one roof.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chair of the Aldermanic Black Caucus, said “it’s difficult to say right now” what new ward boundaries will look like in Englewood.
“We’re in the process of working through what the maps will look like,” said Ervin, who represents a West Side ward. “Our primary objection is the preservation of the 18 African American wards in the city of Chicago.”
Still, Ervin said leaders of the Black Caucus “want to make sure communities are kept as whole as possible.”
“We have to draw lines that are legally defensible and work for the betterment of the whole,” Ervin said. “That’s what we have to focus on.”
Sawyer represents a southeast portion of Englewood, in addition to Auburn Gresham and Chatham.
When aldermen are working on initiatives, they are “not necessarily thinking about wards, but the community, which is Englewood,” Sawyer said, adding he’s not sure how the ward boundaries will change but he is “quite happy representing a portion of Englewood.”
It is not uncommon for aldermen to “represent varying communities within the confines of the territory we represent,” Sawyer said, adding that even though it is a “challenge” to represent multiple communities, “it’s a good challenge and I’m up for the task.”
“In Englewood I have four good partners I work with very well and they work with me,” Sawyer said. “I enjoy the camaraderie we have.”
Sawyer said he considers “the Englewood community a blessing to have five aldermen working for them.”
Coleman and Moore did not respond to requests for comment.
The city is on the verge of launching into full-fledged ward remapping mode as aldermen await block-by-block breakdowns showing where they have gained and lost population and the City Council’s map room is primed to open.
In addition to the Black Caucus fighting to keep its 18 wards and the City Council Latino Caucus hoping to capitalize on the city’s swelling Latino population to add additional wards, an independent commission formed by good government groups is set in the coming weeks to unveil its own proposal for a new ward map.
- Independent advisory commission on ward remap set to take shape this week
- Experts, officials say there’s time to establish independent remap commission but ‘the train is leaving the station’
Still, despite the perceived increase in community involvement, some elected officials remain skeptical the process of drawing ward boundaries will change.
Lopez said he doesn’t know “if the political will is there to do what the community wants” when it comes to Englewood ward boundaries, “because that’s going to require some aldermen to not have wards.”
“You cannot continually use neighborhoods for filler,” he added.