ENGLEWOOD — South Side alderpeople support a City Council ward map that would keep Englewood divided among five wards, dashing the hopes of some residents who wanted a more cohesive territory that would allow elected leaders to prioritize their community.
The council’s Rules Committee revealed the proposed map at a Dec. 1 meeting, giving Chicagoans a look at how the city could be divvied up by political boundaries for the next decade. But they’ve yet to vote on it due to behind-the-scenes political battles that delayed and prevented the 41 votes needed for an approved map.
The Latino Caucus and its supporters, saying “it’s time for the voters to decide,” unveiled a competing map that establishes 15 Latino majority wards, one more than the 14 proposed by the Rules Committee.
But despite the heated debate, alderpeople in Chicago’s Englewood community remain hopeful the proposed Rules Committee map will win final approval, keeping the South Side community under the jurisdiction of five alderpeople.
Englewood falls mostly into the wards of Alds. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), David Moore (17th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th).
Under the Rules Committee map, the neighborhood would remain split among those five alderpeople. Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward now includes a small chuck of Englewood near the Dan Ryan and Garfield Boulevard, would be redrawn and folded into Taylor’s territory.
“I think that there’s a great opportunity for us to get to 41 votes if people keep the politics out of this and focus on the residents,” Moore said. “Whether you get a new portion, you have to get out there and serve people. You just have to serve regardless.”
Under the competing Latino Caucus map, Englewood would be split between three wards: the 15th, 16th and 20th wards. The 17th Ward, currently represented by Moore, would shift west, forming a new Latino majority ward. Sawyer’s 6th Ward would be located below 76th street on the west side of the Dan Ryan Expressway and move north into Greater Grand Crossing on the east side of the highway.
‘The new map doesn’t really help us’
Some Englewood neighbors, however, say they are disappointed with the map proposed by the Rules Committee.
Eddie Johnson, an Englewood native for 42 years, said the purpose of the new ward map should have been to create cohesive boundaries with fewer elected officials. Instead, neighbors received “pretty much the same thing,” he said.
“From an Englewood standpoint, the new map doesn’t really help us,” Johnson said. “The map that was proposed by the council doesn’t address the needs of the people.”
And despite neighbors’ concerns of having too many alderpeople to report to in one community, the new map doesn’t do anything to address the issue, Johnson said. Instead, neighbors are left on their own to navigate confusing boundary lines and report their concerns to the correct alderperson.
“Too many cooks in the kitchen don’t work,” Johnson said.
Linda Austin, an Englewood resident for 30 years, said she’s also concerned about the proposed city map.
For years, Austin said she watched her neighborhood, once a vibrant area with a booming business district, diminish into a community with vacant lots, empty storefronts and closed schools. Years of disinvestment brought forth by a lack of leadership was apparent, she said.
When she learned about the possibility of a new ward map, her dream was to see her community led by “one or two aldermen” whose top goal would be to serve Englewood only.
Aldermen representing Englewood also serve other large South Side neighborhoods, like Chatham (Sawyer), Auburn Gresham (Moore) and Woodlawn (Taylor).
The new map presents the same problem of having too many alderpeople with too many communities to focus on, she said.
“If you have five aldermen fighting for Englewood, they’re going to miss out on something else because their agenda won’t be focused on just the community itself,” Austin said. “All five aldermen are not going to come up with the same process of how to move Englewood forward.”
But contrary to some neighbors’ beliefs, Sawyer said five alderpeople in one community means that Englewood receives “more services” than it would if there was only one leader.
And no matter what communities you work in, some neighbors will feel that another neighborhood receives more attention, Sawyer said. His Chatham residents think he spends too much time in Englewood. His Park Manor residents think the same of Chatham. The conflict is inevitable, he said.
“This is a conversation that you’re always going to have to deal with, and you have to have thick skin to be able to deal with it,” Sawyer said. “I service my entire community. I always provide service to the entirety of the neighborhoods.”
Coleman said she and her colleagues work together as a team to make sure there is “solidarity” in the Englewood community. Her goal, she said, is to continue to unite the “Englewood Five” — a nickname coined to name all the neighborhood’s alderpeople — to bring more investment into the community.
“I’d like to carry the mantle and connect my colleagues and the community so that we are on one accord and singing the same song of investment into a neighborhood that has been disinvested for the last 40 years,” Coleman said. “When we work together, we will all be on the same team and have the same message.”
But for some neighbors, it’s impossible to believe the alderpeople will do anything differently going forward when they have had the same opportunity for years.
And with decisions for the new map made behind closed doors, transparency is already off the table, Johnson said.
“The aldermen had a lot of time to have hearings with the residents to ask how they would like to see the map,” Johnson said. “Then they could have said that the map they were presenting was reflective of what they heard from the constituents. Instead, the residents didn’t have input in the map they proposed.”
Austin said the creation and the unveiling of the map all felt “very hush hush.”
“Getting the information out felt like a secret,” Austin said. “For so many years, people have pushed us to the backburner. We don’t want that anymore. We want to be upfront and get everything we need to thrive as a community.”
In hopes of creating transparency among neighbors, Coleman said she plans to host a community meeting to break down the new ward map once it’s approved.
Moore said he hopes to do the same with his constituents. If City Council doesn’t reach a negotiation and the Latino Caucus ward map proposal is put up for a referendum vote next year, there’s a chance Moore’s ward might change entirely to include communities like Ashburn and Wrightwood.
But in the days ahead, Austin said she doesn’t want any lies, secrets or games. She wants to see a clear, better vision for her community mapped out clearly by those in charge.
“This is a decision about where I live and what it’s going to look like in the future,” Austin said. “Be transparent with us, and give us a leader that can focus on us.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: