Last stab at ward remap compromise

Rules Committee Chair Michelle Harris (8th) has invited Latino Caucus leaders to a meeting at 10 a.m. Sunday in a last-ditch effort to resolve differences standing in the way of a new ward map.

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Twenty-eight aldermen attend the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in person, while 22 aldermen chose to appear virtually, Wednesday morning, April 21, 2021.

Members of the Black and Latino caucuses have been invited to a meeting Sunday in an effort to end the ward map stalemate.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The City Council’s Black and Latino caucuses will meet again Sunday in a last-ditch effort to forge a compromise on a new Chicago ward map that averts a costly referendum, but it could be a short meeting. 

Black Caucus Chair Jason Ervin (28th) said there is no more room to maneuver from the citywide ward map crafted for the Rules Committee by Mike Kasper, the longtime election law expert for deposed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

It includes 14 majority-Hispanic wards, one less than demanded by the Latino Caucus, to reward Hispanics for their 5.2% population gain and preserves 17 African-American wards, including one with a Black plurality.

The Latino Caucus map rekindles historic political tensions between Blacks and Hispanics because Hispanic gains would come at the expense of Blacks. The proposed map has 16 majority-Black wards — down from 18 — after a 9.74% drop in Chicago’s Black population.

“We have no room to give up anything. We’ve given up a ward. We’ve made a move. They have done nothing,” Ervin said Friday.

“They haven’t engaged with anybody. They haven’t given up anything. They took their shot and came up short. They need to recognize that a majority of the Council [is] not where they are.” 

Latino Caucus Chair Gilbert Villegas (36th) countered that, unless there is a dramatic change in ground rules, the stalemate will continue.

“Follow the Latino [census] tracts. … Allow data to be the guiding principle,” Villegas said.

“We’ve been in the map room over 60 times, but we’ve been told over and over that this is where we’re gonna be able to draw because folks are locked in. ... Under the Voting Rights Act, there is no term called ‘locked in.’ … We should be afforded the same opportunity as any other protected class. And we haven’t.”

Rules Committee Chair Michelle Harris (8th), who is presiding over the map-making process, could not be reached for comment. Her letter inviting Villegas to the meeting at 10 a.m. Sunday sounds a bit like an ultimatum.

“I have every intention of reaching a compromise. … I am asking members to arrive prepared to work and collaborate with each other,” Harris wrote.

“If the Latino Caucus is serious about negotiation and finding common ground … you will join me to move this process forward. If you are unwilling to meet and negotiate, I will begin to move forward with finalizing the Rules Committee map.”

In a letter to Harris accepting her invitation to Sunday’s meeting, Villegas “respectfully suggested” streaming the private meeting on Facebook “to show the public backroom deals are a thing of the past.”

Last month, the Council missed a Dec. 1 deadline to redraw Chicago’s ward boundaries to coincide with the 2020 census.

Then, 15 Council members petitioned the city clerk’s office for a referendum on the new ward map filed by the Latino Caucus.

The petition does not necessarily mean Chicago is headed for a costly referendum, its first in 30 years. It simply put the Council on the clock. If there is no agreement 40 days before the June 28 Democratic primary, Chicago voters will make the decision for them.

It takes 26 votes to pass a map, 34 votes to override a mayoral veto and 41 votes to avoid a referendum. Ultimately, Lightfoot must decide whether to sign or veto a map approved by the Council.

In late November, Lightfoot tried and failed to forge a compromise. Since then, she has remained on the sidelines while getting regular updates from Harris, the mayor’s floor leader.

Villegas, the mayor’s former floor leader, urged Lightfoot to get involved even though it’s a no-win situation for a mayor gearing up for a reelection bid.

“If she looks at history to see that Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel both engaged at some point to try to bring some type of compromise, she’ll get it worked out,” Villegas said.

“It’s a mistake not to at least be part of the discussions.”

The major roadblock is the demand for a 15th majority-Hispanic ward. The map drawn by the Latino Caucus would carve such a ward out of incumbent Ald. David Moore’s 17th Ward and make its population 68% Latino.

Alternatively, a 15th Latino ward could be carved out of Stephanie Coleman’s 16th Ward, which is already 48% Hispanic.

A secondary problem is the Rules Committee map reduced the Latino populations of the 33rd, 35th and 36th wards on the North Side in an apparent attempt to “protect” Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th).

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