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Lightfoot threatens to veto any new ward map that protects indicted Ald. Edward Burke

The veto threat is not surprising, given the mayor’s political animus toward Burke. But it further muddles a contentious situation already going down to the wire, with the Rules Committee abruptly canceling Tuesday’s meeting.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spars with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at May 2019 City Council meeting.
Ald. Ed Burke (far left) sparred with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her very first Chicago City Council meeting, back in May 2019.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is prepared to veto any new ward map that protects her longtime political nemesis, indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), her City Council allies have been told.

The mayor’s veto threat is not surprising, given her longstanding political animus toward Burke, her repeated demands for his resignation and the fact that Lightfoot owes her election to the Burke corruption scandal.

But it further complicates an already contentious situation that is going right down to the wire, with the Rules Committee abruptly canceling a meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Direct introduction of a citywide map to allow for immediate consideration at Wednesday’s full Council meeting would require 34 votes.

The new citywide ward map being crafted for the Rules Committee by Mike Kasper, who served for decades as the election law expert for deposed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, goes to great lengths to protect Burke.

It would accommodate an explosion of white population downtown and along the lakefront by creating a new downtown ward that takes in “pieces of the West Loop and pieces of the South Loop above the 25th Ward.”

That would protect Burke by keeping his 14th Ward out of Little Village.

Kasper’s map also would help Marty Quinn, Madigan’s hand-picked alderperson and longtime political operative — by moving Midway Airport from Ald. Silvana Tabares’ 23rd Ward into Quinn’s 13th Ward.

Never mind that Madigan was deposed as speaker and state Democratic Party chairman and resigned his House seat in the wake of the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal.

For Lightfoot, who touted her reform credentials with a promise to “bring in the light,” both of those incumbent protection maneuvers are abhorrent. So is the Rules Committee’s hide-the-ball failure to disclose a final map with enough time for the public to weigh in, made worse by the abrupt cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting.

But sources said it is the decision to save Burke that most sticks in the mayor’s craw and prompted the veto threat.

“She came in on this reform agenda, and she’s still very much in it. She cannot deviate from it,” said a mayoral ally, who asked to remain anonymous.

“It still befuddles her as to why he’s still here. Protecting somebody who may not be around and is not her ally at all — why would she be helpful in that endeavor? And it offends her that we’re still operating with backroom deals that she detested from the beginning.”

Yet another source familiar with the remap negotiations said Lightfoot made it clear early on she had “no interest in protecting Burke. She wants him gone.”

“To see a map coming out that does exactly the opposite of what she wants to see done — she probably blew a gasket,” the source said.

Lightfoot wants desperately to avoid a referendum, Chicago’s first in 30 years, because it would be expensive, “seep into” the mayoral election and potentially be viewed as a “failure of leadership” on her part, the source said.

Barring a mayoral veto upheld by the Council, the source said, “All of her allies and potentially her are going to have to wear the jacket of having a map that protects Burke and Madigan and hurts Latinos.”

The mayor’s office refused to confirm or deny the veto threat.

Its statement simply reiterated that Lightfoot “has stated numerous times that the remapping process requires transparency and has encouraged public involvement. The mayor urges City Council to work together and compromise.”

If Lightfoot follows through on the veto threat, 34 votes would be needed to override. That’s the same threshold needed to ram through a citywide map at Wednesday’s Council meeting.

If the Council overrides Lightfoot’s veto, Kasper’s citywide map would become law. At least 10 Hispanic alderpersons who voted against that map would then file a petition for a referendum within 15 days.

Voters would then decide during the June 2022 primary between the citywide map that protects Burke and Quinn and includes 17 majority Black wards and 14 majority Hispanic wards and the map crafted by the Latino Caucus that includes 15 majority Latino wards and 16 majority African-American wards.

Both maps include Chicago’s first majority Asian-American ward.

If Lightfoot’s veto is sustained, there is no map and the issue is also headed for a referendum.

But there’s a wrinkle: Lightfoot could veto and direct the Council in her veto message to keep trying to forge a compromise. There is nothing preventing Council members from continuing negotiations after the Dec. 1 deadline.

So the entire situation is as clear as mud.

On Tuesday, sources said Kasper approached the Latino Caucus with an offer: No citywide map will be approved so long as the Latino Caucus signs a “stand-still agreement” promising not to file for a referendum while negotiations continue.

“We don’t even know what we’re standing still on. We haven’t even seen a map,” said a source close to the negotiations.