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City Council’s Black, Latino Caucuses Urged To Compromise As Fight Over New Ward Map Continues

The Latino population has grown in Chicago while the Black population has declined. Latino Caucus members say that means there should be more majority Latino wards — but that shouldn't come at the cost of Black representation, opponents say.

The Chicago skyline, as seen from the terrace of the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center, 4740 N Western Ave., on Sept. 9, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — With just 12 days before the deadline to approve a new ward map, alderpeople were urged to come together to reach a compromise during a Thursday hearing.

To avoid sending competing maps to Chicago voters next year, the City Council must approve a compromise ward map by Dec. 1 with at least 41 votes. If it fails to reach that supermajority, 10 members could join forces to support the alternative map.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader and the chair of the Rules Committee that takes the lead on redrawing the city’s 50 wards every 10 years, said council members should “work all weekend to get to 41 [votes] … so that we can finish up this map before Dec. 1.”

Harris urged her colleagues to join her in City Hall’s map room, where alderpeople have been meeting behind closed doors since this summer to craft a map. 

Harris’ comments were directed at the 15 supporters of a map put forward by the Latino Caucus. The map proposal was presented during a Rules Committee hearing Thursday.

Last month, the Latino Caucus introduced its proposal to create 15 majority Latino wards to reflect the community’s population growth, up 5.2 percent from 2010. The result would be the loss of two majority-Black wards.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), who chairs the caucus, told Harris, “We would love to map to get this done before Dec. 1.”

“We still have time to do that,” he said. “The only problem is we have to make sure that when we get in the room we’re talking and compromising.”

Harris argued the map room is the room where it happens.

“For a person who’s done this for the second time of her career, I think that’s what the map room is all about, nobody gets what they want in the mapping when you have to move your lines and you have to move geography, everybody’s in a compromising situation,” Harris said. “I’m asking everybody to come into that space and compromise, but you can’t compromise if you aren’t sitting in the room together.”

The Latino Caucus argues the city’s demographics demand a change in the makeup of current ward boundaries and they want to translate Latino population growth into political power.

Since 2010, Chicago’s Latino population has grown by 40,656 residents, or 5.2 percent, while the Black population has decreased by 84,735 residents, or 9.7 percent since 2010.

The city now has a roughly equal split of white (31.4 percent), Latino (29.8 percent) and Black (28.7 percent) residents. Asian Americans now make up 6.9 percent of the city after a 31 percent Asian American population boom since 2010.

But the Latino Caucus map, which reduces the city’s majority Black wards from 18 to 16 while boosting majority Latino wards from 13 to 15 has faced stiff opposition from the Black Caucus, which is adamant the new map must retain the current allotment of 18 majority Black wards.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), the Black Caucus chairman, said Wednesday he would support a map with 15 majority Latino wards, but not at the expense of the current 18 majority Black wards.

“They can draw as many wards as they can, or need to, as long as they do not impact African American communities. If they’re able to do that without impacting African American communities. We have no objections,” Ervin said. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has taken a hands-off approach to drawing the city’s ward map, said after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, “It’s not time for me to put my imprint on a particular map.”

“I’m aware of the back and forth, some of which is public, some of which has not been public,” she said.

Lightfoot, who campaigned on having an independent commission redraw the city’s ward map before abandoning the position, also said the public should be able to provide input ahead of a City Council vote on the map.

“I think there’s got to be enough time for people to be able to understand it, to be able to see where the lines are actually drawn,” she said. “That’s gonna mean some meaningful time for a map to be out there for public view, and I think people should have an opportunity to weigh in and express their views about the proposed map.”

But neither the Rules Committee nor Black Caucus has released a draft of a map publicly. Ervin said Wednesday the Black Caucus has a 50 ward map that was given to the Rules Committee and he expects it to be public “fairly soon.”

Credit: Provided
Proposed ward map by the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus.

Thursday’s hearing was the closest the city has come to meaningful public engagement of the process, allowing attorneys and mapmakers hired by the Latino Caucus to present their map and the rationale behind it. 

Frank Calabrese, a political consultant hired by the Latino Caucus to redraw the city’s map, walked the committee through the data used when creating the map.

The 34th ward, currently held by indicted Ald. Carrie Austin, would be moved from the Far South Side into the Near South Side to accommodate the area’s booming population growth.

The 25th ward, currently represented by Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez, would have it’s entire boundary shifted north of the Chicago River and west into predominantly Latino areas to create a majority Latino ward.

Removing the 25th ward from Chinatown leaves the home of the city’s largest concentration of Asian Americans inside the 11th ward. Villegas and Ervin have publicly committed to creating the city’s 1st majority Asian American ward.

The map would also reduce the number of alderpeople serving the greater Englewood area from six to three, in part by moving the 17th ward east to become a majority Latino ward. But, it would split the West Town area into a cluster of wards, which has drawn opposition from area residents.

“It’s obvious that we have to deal with the increase in the Latino population and give them more representation, and try to preserve as many African American wards according to the population in 2020. It’s not the population from 1980 or 2010, we have to deal with the cards we were dealt, so to speak,” said Burt Odelson, an attorney working for the Latino Caucus.

But after Ervin surveyed the map Thursday, he said he was “disappointed another protected class would basically go after another protected class in order to create something that only benefitted them.”

With two weeks to go before December 1, Harris said the committee is “likely” to hold two hearings next week and has previously stated the map would be voted on during a special meeting of the City Council.

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