Latino Caucus forges alliance with ‘people’s commission’ on new ward map

An adviser to the Latino Caucus called the alliance a “game-changer” that could win support from voters in remap referendum. But Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin said the alliance will have zero impact.

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City Council members hold a special meeting, Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 1, 2021, where the proposed new ward map was distributed. The City Council has not voted on the map.

City Council members at the December meeting at which a proposed map, backed by the Council’s Black Caucus, was distributed. That map has not been voted on by the full council, and an alternative map, crafted by the Latino Caucus, has been altered based on input from CHANGE Illinois, which had created an independent commission and drawn its own “people’s map.” Now CHANGE Illinois has endorsed the amended Latino Caucus map.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The once-a-decade process of redrawing Chicago’s ward boundaries based on the latest census data took a dramatic turn on Wednesday with potential to tip the scales in a voter referendum — even if it changes no City Council votes.

The Latino Caucus forged an alliance with the CHANGE Illinois Action Fund and what it called its “people’s commission” after making 10 changes to accommodate the independent mapmaking group’s demand to keep “key communities from being significantly splintered.”

Madeleine Doubek, executive director of CHANGE Illinois, said those changes are more than minor tweaks.

They keep Englewood in two wards, instead of six or seven. They keep the Chicago Avenue business corridor in the same ward with South Austin, and Washington Park in the same ward as Woodlawn. They change some of the boundaries in six other wards to align with the map drawn by the CHANGE Illinois commission.

With those modifications, CHANGE Illinois agreed to embrace the Latino Caucus map, and back that up with lobbying and fundraising. That map includes includes 15 majority-Hispanic wards — an increase of two — based on Hispanics’ 5.2% population gain in the 2020 census.

Veteran mapmaker and political operative Victor Reyes, who is advising the Latino Caucus, called the alliance a “major development” and potential “game-changer.”

“Our map becomes more transparent, more acceptable in progressive communities. And CHANGE Illinois is committed to start lobbying members of the Progressive Caucus and lakefront who have kind of been sitting on the fence. A lot of the lakefront white aldermen … are now gonna be under tremendous pressure. They’re gonna have to make a choice,” Reyes said.

“It is our research and experience that referendum maps across the country that win are the ones perceived by the voters to be the most transparent. Voters don’t like insider, back-room deal maps.” 

Ald. Ariel. Reboyras (30th) examines the proposed new ward map during a special City Council meeting, Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 1, 2021, where the proposed new ward map was distributed. The City Council has not voted on the map.

Ald. Ariel. Reboyras (30th) examines the proposed ward map distributed during a special City Council meeting on Dec. 1. That map has not been voted on by the full council, and the Latino Caucus is backing an alternative map.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said “no one signed on” to the map put forward by CHANGE Illinois — and that speaks volumes about how little impact the group’s alliance with the Latino Caucus will have.

“It reduced representation of protected communities. Primarily the African-American community. That’s why it just did not work for the caucus and the community that I represent. Under that scenario, we would have lost three, possibly four seats. That makes no sense,” Ervin said.

“A map that lessens the representation severely of the African-American community, for us, is a non-starter.”

The major roadblock to a deal between the Black and Latino Caucuses is the demand for a 15th majority-Hispanic ward.

If anything, Ervin said the alliance between the Latino Caucus and CHANGE Illinois moves Chicago closer to a June 28 referendum, in which voters choose between the Latino Caucus map and the Black Caucus version, which includes 14 majority-Hispanic wards, one less than demanded by the Latino Caucus, and preserves 17 African-American wards, including one with a Black plurality.

“There’s potential for additional adjustments in the map. And for them to come out now before all of that is done probably isn’t the best move. But that’s on them,” Ervin said.

“They’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money into a process and they’re looking for something to show for it. Unfortunately, they just made a bad decision.”

Doubek held out little hope of changing Council votes. It would take 26 votes to pass the Latino Caucus map, 34 votes needed to override a mayoral veto and 41 votes it would take to avoid a referendum.

“We readily admit we’ve not made much headway with Council members to persuade them to support the People’s Map. So I don’t know whether it will have sway within the Council. I certainly hope that it would. But I’ve seen no sign of that so far,” she said.

“I think it will be a good thing if the people have a chance to have a say in shaping their wards and their boundaries. That’s what this effort has been all about.”

Doubek was asked if the alliance might convince Mayor Lori Lightfoot to veto the citywide ward map crafted for the Rules Committee and Black Caucus by Mike Kasper, who served decades as election law expert for now-deposed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

After all, the lakefront vote could be pivotal in the 2023 mayoral election. And Doubek has accused Lightfoot of walking away from a campaign promise to take the once-a-decade political bloodletting out of the back room and hand it to an independent commission.

“I would invite her to support the work that came from people all over communities in Chicago. It’s clearly the stronger map that is more compact, that keeps communities whole in more instances where they have been splintered,” particularly on the West Side, Doubek said. “It keeps the Asian majority ward that the Chicago Advisory Commission was the first to create.”

The proposed new ward map is seen during a special Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 1, 2021.

A proposed map of Chicago wards. The ward lines are redrawn every 10 years based on new census data. The 2020 census data showed an increase in the city’s Hispanic population.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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