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As City Council Fights Over Ward Boundaries, A Resident-Backed Map Is Delivered To City Hall — With No Aldermanic Support

The Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission held dozens of public hearings before crafting a map its members claim could win a referendum against a City Council-led map. But they need at least 10 alderpeople to endorse their plan.

Former Ald. Dick Simpson speaks at a press conference for the "people's map."
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CHICAGO — An independent group formed to reimagine Chicago’s 50 wards for the next decade submitted their “people’s map” Monday at City Hall as its supporters race to drum up City Council backing for their proposal.

Backed by a coalition of good government groups, the Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission created a ward map after 31 virtual and in-person public hearings across the city since June, outside the traditional halls of power.

The group’s map largely rids Chicago of weirdly shaped, gerrymandered wards that have been criticized for splitting neighborhoods into as many as six wards, while preserving the power of the politicians who drew them.

RELATED: The City’s Ward Boundaries Are Decided By A Few Powerful Aldermen. What If Maps Were Drawn ‘For Chicagoans, By Chicagoans’ Instead?

The end result would create 15 majority Black wards, 14 majority Latino wards and the city’s first majority Asian American ward centered on Chinatown.

“We have produced the fairest, the best and the map that has been created by the people of Chicago and we will prevail,” said former Ald. Dick Simpson, who advised the group.

But as of Monday, no alderperson has publicly signed on to support the group’s map.

Without a City Council sponsor, the group leaned on Simpson’s expertise and directly introduced their map with City Clerk Anna Valencia’s office Monday morning, along with 1,600 support signatures.

A supermajority of 41 alderpeople must endorse a ward map by Dec. 1 or else Chicagoans could be asked to choose between competing maps through a referendum next year.

If a City Council-led map isn’t passed by December, any 10 alderpeople who didn’t vote for another proposal can sponsor an alternate proposal, including the “people’s map,” to put it before voters.

Before walking to City Hall, the People’s Map group held a news conference inside the Hotel Allegro — where ward committeemen once met to divvy up city powers — to explain their work and express a willingness to compromise to find City Council support.

Chaundra Van Dyk, project manager of Change Illinois, which helped form the commission, said “several” alderpeople have expressed private support for the group’s efforts, but negotiations over ward boundaries would have to be transparent.

“We will publicize the hearing in advance. We would allow people to sign up for the hearing, including alders, they will be able to come and give their testimony to the commission, at which time the commission will take that feedback into account and publicly draw the map for all the people to see,” Van Dyk said.

Under the “people’s map,” Simpson said, “the people will choose the alderman rather than the alderman choose the people.”

“Every alderman is concerned about whether or not they can be re-elected; they’re not putting the people first,” Simpson said. “We see this as the beginning map of a real solution to that power struggle. We didn’t come into this with any axe to grind. We weren’t looking to empower one scenario or another but to empower every neighborhood in every community.”

The council’s Latino and Black caucuses appear no closer to reaching a compromise with their dueling maps. Latino alderpeople are jockeying for more wards to reflect a higher Latino population, while Black council members are trying to retain the number of majority Black wards despite a falling population.

Across town, the Aldermanic Black Caucus introduced a broadly outlined map that would trade one majority Black ward in favor of one majority Latino ward. Its version comprises 18 white wards, 17 Black wards, 14 Latino wards and one Asian and Asian American ward, with the specific boundaries to be determined later.

“Those are the elected representatives of those communities, and they should be the ones at the table making those decisions or drawing those boundaries,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who chairs the caucus. 

The City Council’s Black Caucus proposal for redrawing Chicago’s ward boundaries sketches out where in the city there would be majority white, Black, Latino and Asian wards. It would still be up to alderpeople to decide where to draw the 50 ward lines.

The Latino caucus map, which has backing from 15 council members, would reduce Black wards from 18 to 16, while increasing Latino wards from 13 to 15. Later Monday, the group rejected the Black Caucus proposal, saying the only “fair representation is with 15 majority Latino wards.”

Also Monday, aldermanic supporters of the Latino Caucus map called for three special meetings of the City Council next week to discuss and potentially call for a vote on the map.

The Rules Committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday to debate redistricting, but the meeting was abruptly canceled.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday at an unrelated news conference City Council members had “got themselves into a little pickle” by pushing up against the Dec. 1 deadline without a compromise in sight.

Lightfoot also claimed to have been “very consistent for a year” on the need for transparency and community engagement in the redistricting process, but she has thus far taken a hands-off approach to the remap. As mayor, Lightfoot abandoned a campaign promise to support an independent commission to redraw the map.

But, with a little more than a week to go, Lightfoot believes there’s room for compromise.

“If they throw this to a referendum, anything is possible, and I don’t think most members of City Council want to get to that point, but they’ve got to recognize the art of compromise,” she said.

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