City Council poised to have most Hispanic, fewest white aldermen ever

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5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston votes Tuesday at O’Keefe Elementary School, 6940. S. Merrill. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

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Swept along in a tide of change, Chicago’s new City Council appears likely to have the greatest number of Hispanic aldermen ever and the fewest white alderman, since the ward system was adopted.

Following the aldermanic runoffs on Tuesday, Hispanics have picked up at least one seat, for a total of 11.

In a significant upset, community activist Andre Vasquez unseated veteran Ald. Patrick O’Connor in the 40th Ward. Vasquez had 53.9 percent of the vote to O’Connor’s 46.1 percent with all precincts reporting.

And Hispanics might pick up one more seat, for a total of 12 — if community activist and political newcomer Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez maintains her lead and ekes out a victory over Ald. Deb Mell. Mell was trailing by 24 votes with all precincts counted. But mail ballots could still play a factor.

In addition to O’Connor, two other incumbents — 31st Ward Ald. Milly Santiago and 16th Ward Ald. Toni Foulkes — were out Tuesday night.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th) were holding on to slim leads over their challengers.

The incumbent losses come on top of three others in February. Challenger Daniel La Spata beat Proco “Joe” Moreno in the 1st Ward, Jim Gardiner beat John Arena in the 45th Ward, and Maria Hadden ousted Joe Moore in the 49th Ward.

In 2015, seven incumbents lost their re-election bids in the February and April elections. The last time nine incumbent aldermen was ousted was 1987.

If Rodriguez-Sanchez wins, the number of white aldermen on the city council would be 19 — the fewest since the 50 ward system was adopted in 1923.

While Chicago voted overwhelmingly for a black woman for mayor, neither African Americans nor women appeared likely to break any records for their numbers on the City Council.

African Americans picked up one seat in the 47th Ward with newcomer Matt Martin, a civil rights attorney, easily defeating Michael Negron, a former policy director for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They were competing to fill the aldermanic slot left by Ameya Pawar, who lost in his bid for city treasurer.

With that victory, African Americans will hold 19 aldermanic seats, the same they held in 2011.

Women appeared likely to snare at least 15 seats, if Hairston hold onto her slim lead. In 2007, women held 18 aldermanic seats, the most ever.

Hispanics account for 29 percent of the city’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. With gains made Tuesday, their representation on the city council will climb from 20 percent to at 22 percent, with a one seat pick-up, or 24 percent with two additional seats.

In 2011 there were 22 white alderman. In 2015 there were 21. In 2019, with 19 seats, whites would account for 38 percent of the City Council while making up 32.7 percent of the city’s population.

Pawar, the former 47th Ward alderman, was the only Asian alderman for that eight-year stretch.

He’s exiting his seat, leaving no Asians on the council.

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