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Ward Map Battle Begins Again With New Hearings — Can Alderpeople Reach A Compromise?

The Rules Committee map draws several competitors of aldermen out of their wards. Ald. Michelle Harris said individual aldermen have to defend their maps. "I’ve not said ‘Did you take this church out? Did you put this church in?' ... It’s their map."

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) answers questions as alderpeople gather for a press conference on Dec. 7, 2021 at City Hall in support of the Rules Committee ward map released last week.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A new round of public hearings on Chicago’s ward redistricting kicked off Tuesday — but tensions remain as alderpeople attempt to hammer out a compromise to avoid sending the issue to voters.

The City Council Rules Committee held its first public hearing since last week, when it unveiled, but did not vote on, a proposed ward map. The map was the result of months of negotiations between alderpeople — but the remapping process has been so perilous that the city’s Latino Caucus put its competing map proposal up for a referendum vote next year. Both groups have said they’re still open to negotiating.

With another hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday and more to come in January, supporters of the Rules Committee map — which has the support of the Black Caucus — and the “Coalition Map” put forward by the Latino Caucus said Tuesday they are willing to “work together.” 

“I’ll say this to the public and to my colleagues: I don’t think that there’s ever been a case where the map of first impression passed without any adjustment,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), the son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer. “Let’s not get out with the vitriol and one map is better than the other. But let’s work towards having a map that we can all be proud of.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who is the only Black alderperson to support the map put forward by the Latino Caucus, said he is “glad the tone is changing as far as everybody working together, because that’s the only way we’re going to get a map done … .”

But the new camaraderie among the committee was dampened when a presentation from a consultant argued the Latino Caucus map proposal did not create the city’s first Asian American majority ward, centered on Chinatown.

Anne Schaefer, who was hired by the Rules Committee to help with remapping, said the Latino Caucus map does not have an Asian American majority ward, saying her remapping software produced an Asian American majority ward in the Latino Caucus map in only “two of the 12” modeling calculations.

During the meeting, Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), who supports the Latino Caucus map, said that was incorrect but agreed to have the conversation offline with Schaefer. 

After the hearing, the Latino Caucus shot back that its map does create the Asian American majority 11th Ward, as its map would create a ward with a 50.6 percent Asian American population.

Prior to the hearing, supporters of the Rules Committee gathered at City Hall to defend its proposed map.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who led the creation of the map as chair of the Rules Committee, said a referendum is “unnecessary,” arguing “we can all come together” to support a map that avoids a referendum that would be “a divisive election cycle that pits one group against another group.”

Harris also cited the creation of an Asian American majority ward in the Rules Committee map as an example of incorporating public input into the process.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said it’s City Council’s job to work “side by side” on a compromise to avoid a referendum.

“Going to referendum is not a choice that we [want to] make. It’s one that’s costly to all of us, takes us away from the other issues that are more important,” he said. “We are willing to work side by side with every one of our aldermanic colleagues as we have done for the last two months.”

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she wasn’t allowed into the map room 10 years ago during the last remap process until the last moment. But “this time it’s much different,” she said, praising Harris’ leadership.

Smith also called on her colleagues to work together to reach the 41 votes needed to avoid a referendum.

“I  hope that the conduct of people who have come to the map room, as everyone was invited to do from the most senior to the most junior alderman in the city, will come in with the spirit of preserving their communities …,” she said.

The Rules Committee map draws several former or future campaign competitors of sitting aldermen out of their respective wards. Doing so does not prevent the challengers from running again, but it forces them to move back into the ward to run for reelection.

Harris said she bears no responsibility if that happens, saying, “I did not draw lines for any aldermen” and she wasn’t aware of “where anyone’s opponents live.”

“Each alderman drew a map that they presented to the map room, and I’ve not said ‘Did you take this church out? Did you put this church in? Did you put this group in?’ It’s their map,” she said. “And I think that each alderman will have to be responsible for the maps that they drew.”

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