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With No Deal, Ward Remap Meeting Canceled One Day Before Crucial Deadline As Lightfoot Heads To D.C.

If City Council does not vote by Wednesday, it will set off a race to shore up enough political support for a map and avoid a referendum next year.

Alderpeople attend a City Council meeting on Sept. 14, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The committee charged with creating Chicago’s political boundaries for the next decade hastily canceled a Tuesday afternoon meeting one day ahead of an important deadline to redraw the city’s ward map.

The City Council Rules Committee was set to unveil a 50-ward map crafted behind closed doors, but the meeting was canceled less than 20 minutes before it was supposed to start.

The proposal, the details of which remain a mystery to the public, does not have a critical 41-vote super majority, according to those close to the process. If a new map is not approved by the end of Wednesday with 41 backers, that opens the door for any 10 alderpeople to submit their own version that would square off against the City Council-backed map in a June referendum.

It remains unlikely the matter would go to Chicago voters. After Wednesday, alderpeople would have until 40 days before the June midterm election to shore up 41 votes for a map, which would cancel the referendum.

A City Council meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, but it is unclear if it will move forward.

As the backroom negotiations on the new ward map continue, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is left town for Washington D.C. to advocate for more resources to support Chicago’s infrastructure and to combat COVID 19, her press office announced Tuesday, just before the meeting was canceled.

If there is a meeting without Lightfoot present, the President Pro Tempore, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he would preside.

“The way things have been going, it’s possible tomorrow’s meeting could get cancelled, but we’ll see,” Reilly said. “It’s a very fluid situation, so may not know about tomorrow until much later tonight.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the map is “95 percent done,” and City Council leaders are exploring the possibility of directly introducing the map into the City Council Wednesday. That would bypass the committee hearing altogether and deny the public a chance to review it ahead of the vote, which would violate the Open Meetings Act. 

Hopkins said even if it’s “not technically a violation of the rules, that would certainly be a violation of the spirit of the rules and it’s bad practice if we do that.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Alderpeople at the Oct. 27 City Council meeting.

Lightfoot has been hands-off with the city’s remapping process, but entered negotiations over the weekend hoping to hammer out a deal between the city’s Black and Latino caucuses and the Rules Committee.

The Sun-Times reported Tuesday Lightfoot sent alderpeople scrambling to tweak the map proposal after she threatened to veto any map that protected the incumbency of her political nemeses, indicted Ald. Ed Burke (14th).

The Rules Committee hired attorney Michael Kasper, the longtime attorney of former House Speaker Mike Madigan, to help craft the new ward map.

In addition to protecting Burke by keeping his Southwest Side ward from moving into Little Village, the draft map would also help longtime Madigan ally, Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), by moving Midway Airport into his ward, according to the Sun-Times.

The map was heavily influenced by the Black Caucus, who did not release their own proposal. They instead have worked through the Rules Committee process to carve out space for 17 majority Black wards, one fewer than the current 18 despite a decline in Chicago’s Black population since 2010.

The Latino Caucus released its own proposal in October, creating 15 majority wards, up from 13, to account for population growth among Latinx Chicagoans. Their proposal would reduce the number of majority Black wards to 16.

During a contentious hearing on Monday, members of the Latino Caucus said they were left out of negotiations with the Rules Committee to craft a compromise.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who chairs the Rules Committee, shot back that the Latino Caucus chose to run a separate map process by releasing their own proposal, and that by the time they entered the map room to craft a deal many of the new boundaries had already been set.

After Monday’s hearing, 14 alderpeople signed a letter in support of the Latino Caucus proposal, saying “it is apparent that there is not a will to have true negotiations and serious compromise.”

“A referendum remains a real possibility. Sponsors of the Chicago Coalition Map continue to encourage the City Council to pass a legally defensible map. A map that disenfranchises minorities will require a referendum and will invite litigation that could cost taxpayers millions,” they said.

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

If a map is passed without 41 votes, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), who chairs the Latino Caucus, didn’t rule out supporting an alternative map to put up for a referendum, but told Block Club he hoped Lightfoot would veto the map. That would put City Council back at square one if 34 alderpeople don’t override a veto.

Villegas said it’s possible the City Council meeting is held to publicly reveal a map without putting it up for a vote. But if backers force a vote, it’s “their prerogative” and “they’ll have to deal with that.”

“This is something that has not been transparent,” he said. “The Mayor spoke about that she wanted to make sure it’s transparent, make sure that the public had an opportunity to weigh in, so if the members decide that that was some good advice by the Mayor then they won’t” call a vote.

Also on Tuesday, Asian American community groups gathered at City Hall to raise the alarm that after the last-minute shuffling, the new map may fail to include the city’s first Asian-majority ward centered around Chinatown, despite promises from both the Black and Latino caucuses.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) said Monday he was “working with different groups within Chinatown to try to bring all of the communities of common interest together, while maintaining in-tact neighborhoods.”

“And that’s what we’re about…we’re not trying to keep it to a lower percentage or adjust boundaries,” to prevent a majority Asian ward. 

But Daley Thompson’s wish to keep Bridgeport, Canaryville and the University Village neighborhood in the 11th ward could make it difficult to carve out the territory centered on Chinatown. 

C.W. Chan, founder of the Better Chinese American Community, said community groups in Chinatown had a “heart-to-heart talk” with Daley Thompson on Monday, explaining “this is something we’ve been fighting for for decades.”

Chan said at the end of the meeting, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce committed to continue fighting for a majority Asian ward and that “we hope that Ald. Thompson will assist in that process.”

A Lightfoot spokesperson declined to say if she supported having a majority Asian ward.

“The Mayor has stated numerous times that the remapping process requires transparency and has encouraged public involvement. The Mayor urges City Council to work together to reach a compromise,” said press secretary Cesar Rodriguez.

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