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With deadline approaching, Black and Latino City Council members must compromise on ward remap

We also look forward to the day when this process is driven far more by public input, or fully placed into the hands of an independent remap commission.

The Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus unveiled a map generally showing how new wards might be carved out. But Latino aldermen are not pleased. Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 at The Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
The Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus unveiled a map on Monday generally showing how new wards might be carved out. But Latino City Council members are not pleased.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The city’s decennial ward remap process is never pretty — blood-lettings seldom are — and the current go-round, though not as ugly as in decades past, is no exception.

The City Council’s Black Caucus this week unveiled a remap plan that calls for 18 majority-white wards, while Black wards would drop from 18 to 17, Latino wards would grow from 13 to 14, and the city would get its first Asian ward.

On first blush, the changes would seem to reflect what’s happened in Chicago over the last decade: Black population has shrunk while the Latino population and Asian population — particularly in Bridgeport and Chinatown — has grown.

But some Latino council members feel the proposed map shortchanges the true growth of their constituency. They have a point worth considering: The city’s Latino population has leapfrogged past that of Black residents.

This standoff is one reason why we’re renewing our call for a remap that is fair and equitable. That requires taking into account the reality of shifting demographics and respecting the integrity of well-defined neighborhoods — Englewood comes to mind — so that they’re not carved up amongst multiple wards.

We also look forward to the day when this process is driven far more by public input, or fully placed into the hands of an independent remap commission.

Both options are preferable over leaving it to City Council members, who have always — always — fashioned ward maps that preserve their own political power instead of guaranteeing fair representation for all Chicagoans.

‘Good opportunity’ or ‘wrong foot’?

The City Council has to approve a new map by Dec. 1. The map needs 26 votes to pass, but would need 34 “yes” votes to override a mayoral veto, should one arise.

And the new map could be sent to a public referendum for next year if it doesn’t get 41 Council votes, as the remap ordinance dictates. All of that means Latino support is crucial.

The math looming behind the remap battle is this: The city’s Black population has declined almost 10% to 801,195 since 2010, according to U.S. Census figures released last August. Meanwhile, the Latino population increased by 5.2% over the decade, rising to 819,518.

The city’s white population grew by 1% and stands at 863,000.

“We believe this [map] is a good opportunity for all of Chicago,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said as he revealed the caucus’ map Monday at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, accompanied by caucus members.

“I think that we have focused our efforts on being intentional about protecting our community, but at the same time recognizing that other communities have made gains in the city and, again, this is where we are, and we believe that this is fair for all of Chicago,” Ervin said.

But Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), head of the council’s Latino Caucus, sharply disagreed, saying, “If this is something that the Black Caucus wants to use to start discussions, I can tell you that they’re off on the wrong foot.”

Villegas and his allies submitted a map that proposes 15 Latino council members. But their plan also lowers the number of Black council members from the current 18 down to 16 — a provision with which the Black Caucus disagrees.

Erwin said 14 Latino members are the most that would likely be elected. His mapmaker, Edward Sarpolus, said the Black Caucus map was drawn in a way to assure the various communities, including Latinos, could win elections in the new wards.

Sarpolus said many residents in the Asian and Hispanic communities are younger than the actual voting age, “so the question is, can they win that ward.”

We thank Sarpolus for his honesty, but he unwittingly makes the case for us: that the remap process is politically tainted — it’s all about getting elected — and shouldn’t be left to City Council members.

Compromise needed

If the City Council cannot put politics aside and settle the remap fairly, there’s the risk this could land in court. That’s a risk the city cannot afford.

The contentious 1990 remap led to a lawsuit that cost taxpayers $20 million to settle.

“The fact of the matter is, if they don’t reach a compromise, most of the members of the City Council are going to lose,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said earlier this week.

She’s right. And the citizens of Chicago won’t come out much better.

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