WEST TOWN — Four West Town and Wicker Park neighborhood groups are backing a proposed ward map that would unify their areas under one alderperson, contradicting local City Council members as the remapping deadline looms.
The Chicago United Map backed by the City Council’s Rules Committee and Black Caucus is one of two maps voters will consider during a June referendum if the City Council cannot compromise by May 19.
If enacted, the Chicago United Map would bring the area within Western, Ashland, North and Grand avenues into the 1st Ward. The area currently is split among three wards.
Part of the eastern section of West Town, including the Noble Square and River West areas, would remain in the 27th Ward under the Chicago United Map.
Chicago United has been endorsed by 35 aldermen, led by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who chairs the Rules Committee that oversees the remap process. The Wicker Park Committee, East Village Association, Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association and the Chicago Grand Neighbors Association wrote to Harris last week in support of the map, saying it does the best job of joining the larger West Town area.
“For the first time in many years, the map as proposed brings our neighborhoods together. We appreciate that you have taken our input and drawn boundaries for the 1st Ward that will significantly aid our neighborhoods in planning, public safety, and responsible development for the next ten years,” the letter reads.
Neighbors argue that cohesion and the ability to lobby a single City Council member would make it easier for them to advocate for any issue affecting the entire area.
“Particularly with commercial development on, say, Chicago Avenue or Division, to have that under one umbrella and have one person to turn to to discuss any issues that are occurring, just seems like a huge advantage,” said Michael VanDam, a board member and former president of the East Village Association.
VanDam said he’d like to see Chicago adopt a data-driven, apolitical approach to ward mapmaking. But in the meantime, the Chicago United Map is the best option for the area, he said.
“As neighbors, we’re going to defend our neighborhood and we’re going to defend the cohesion of our neighborhood. Especially when we’re talking about a 10-year ward map, that is going to sway us to defend what’s in our best interest, which, in this case, is certainly the Rules Committee map,” he said.
That stance is at odds with alds. Daniel La Spata (1st) and Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose wards include most of West Town, Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village.
La Spata and Hopkins support what’s now called the People’s Coalition map, backed by City Council’s Latino Caucus and CHANGE Illinois, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable mapmaking.
The People’s Coalition map is a revised version of the original introduced by the Latino Caucus and its allies. While 14 aldermen currently support the map, it will likely not appear on a ballot if the decision goes to a referendum. Instead, a map first introduced by the Latino Caucus last year would appear.
The People’s Coalition map would keep the Ashland/Western/North/Grand area split into three wards, although with different boundaries than the city’s current ward map.
But La Spata said it overall does a better job of unifying communities throughout the 1st Ward, which also includes parts of Logan Square, as well as across the city.
“If you look at the way the Coalition map treats West Town and Logan Square versus if you were to compare how the Rules Committee map treats Logan Square and West Town, it is not a fair thing to say that one community is made whole while another is divided and shredded up. Every neighborhood in Chicago deserves the decency of a cohesive and compact ward map,” La Spata said.
Some Logan Square residents recently blasted the Rules Committee map, which would move the Palmer Square area into a 36th Ward stretching all the way from Montclare to Bucktown.
“The goal in this map-making process is for everyone to come out with a wholeness and a cohesiveness for the wards that their neighborhoods are represented by,” La Spata said.
Hopkins did not return a request for comment.
This is the second time West Town neighbors have weighed in on the remap process.
In November, eight neighborhood groups sent a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and all 50 alderpeople criticizing an earlier draft of a map supported by the Latino Caucus, which would have split the larger West Town area into six wards.
Neighbors said that splintering would harm efforts to fight crime and advocate for public safety in the area. West Town, Bucktown and the entire city saw a surge in carjackings and robberies in 2021.
“We’re just kind of jury-rigged in with other aldermen who we do not believe will have the best interest of our neighborhoods in mind,” Kimberly Shannon, Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association president, said at the time. “Their focus is going to be elsewhere because we’re going to be such a small piece of each one of those” wards.
The West Town groups’ letter to Harris comes as one alderman changed his mind last week over which map to support.
Ald. Felix Cardona (31st) is now backing the Chicago United Map after originally supporting the Coalition Map endorsed by his colleagues in the Latino Caucus.
“I’m proud to support the Chicago United Map as the strongest path forward for our city,” Cardona said in a press release. “The Chicago United Map adds two additional wards for our Latino communities and offers a better opportunity to increase Latino representation at City Hall.”
The remaining 14 alderpeople behind the People’s Coalition Map blasted the defection Thursday, writing in a letter they “are deeply disappointed Alderman Cardona has flip flopped on the map.”
“The Chicago United Map slices and dices communities. Redistricting experts have found that the Chicago United Map is significantly less contiguous and compact than the current City of Chicago ward map,” the letter reads.
Even with Cardona’s switch, the Chicago United Map is still six votes short of the 41 needed to pass a map in City Council and avoid a June 28 ballot referendum. Unless that calculus changes in the next several days, voters will ultimately decide which map becomes law.
“Truly, I cannot tell you what we are going to see happen in the next two weeks, other than to say that it’s crunch time,” La Spata said. “If the City Council does not vote on a map by May 19, then we are going to a referendum. But I cannot say truly how that process is going to play out over the next couple of weeks.”
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