Latino Caucus chairman ‘1,000% certain’ voters will decide new ward boundaries

“Unfortunately, we’ve come to an impasse,” on a new map of Chicago’s 50 wards, said Ald. Gilbert Villegas. “So we’ve decided to let the voters decide. ... From here forward, we’re in campaign mode. We’re going to raise the necessary funds to get our message out.”

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Ald. Gilbert Villegas, chairman of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, speaks at a news conference before a Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas, chairman of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, speaks at a news conference before Wednesday’s Council meeting. His group and the Council’s Black Caucus are at odds over how to draw a new map for Chicago’s 50 wards. If no map gets enough votes in the Council, there will be a voter referendum to choose a new map.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

It looks like Chicago voters will have the final word in the once-a-decade political power struggle to redraw ward boundaries to match the U.S. census.

One week after forging an alliance with the CHANGE Illinois Action Fund that could make it easier to attract voter support, Latino Caucus Chairman Gilbert Villegas (31st) said “negotiations have stopped” and he is “1,000% certain” the issue is headed for a referendum on June 28.

“We have exhausted all avenues to get to a position where the data and the Voting Rights Act can be followed. There has been no true negotiations around trying to take that into account. Unfortunately, we’ve come to an impasse. So we’ve decided to let the voters decide,” Villegas said after a City Hall news conference to launch the referendum campaign.

“From here forward, we’re in campaign mode. We’re going to raise the necessary funds to get our message out. … The whole process of [politicians] selecting their voters is gonna end. We’re gonna allow the voters to select their representatives.”

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, has estimated Chicago’s first remap referendum in 30 years would cost beleaguered taxpayers upwards of $40 million.

Villegas called that a “scare tactic.” The real cost is, he said, is 20 cents per voter. And even that is not a sure thing.

‘The Chicago Board of Elections has sent a message saying that the ballot — if it appears on another page — will cost $550,000. If it does not require another page, then the cost is zero to the taxpayers,” Villegas said.

Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) said that per-voter estimate does not include the millions of dollars in likely legal costs. Lawsuits would almost certainly be filed against the city if council approves and Mayor Lori Lightfoot signs the map drawn for the Rules Committee and the Black Caucus by Mike Kasper, who spent decades as election law expert for now-deposed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“That’s where the bulk of the money will come in,” Ervin said.

Ervin and Villegas agree on one thing: Negotiations have ceased.

“Compromise is giving up something. To date, they’ve given up nothing. It’s a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ mentality,” Ervin said.

“We have negotiated and made compromises. But they’ve done none of that. That’s on them. What’s been put on the table by the [rules] committee is in the best interest of this city in its entirety — not just one community. And if the voters have to make that decision, the voters have to make that decision.”

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) with a proposed map of Chicago wards displayed at a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 at City Hall.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) with a proposed map of Chicago wards displayed at a news conference on Wednesday at City Hall.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The major roadblock to a deal between the Black and Latino caucuses is the demand for a 15th majority-Hispanic ward. After leaving two Hispanic majority wards on the table 10 years ago because of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s desire to preserve 18 Black-majority wards, the Latino Caucus simply will not settle for anything less.

The map drafted for the Rules Committee and the Black Caucus includes 14 majority-Hispanic wards and preserves 17 African-American wards, including one with a Black plurality.

Both maps would turn the 11th Ward — represented until last week by now-convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson — into Chicago’s first ward with a majority of Asian-Americans.

In the 2020 Census, Hispanics passed Blacks as Chicago’s largest minority. The Hispanic population increased by 5.2%, or 40,656 people, to 819,518, while Chicago’s African American population dropped by 9.74%, or 86,413 people, to 801,195.

The white population increased by 8,905, just over 1%, from 854,717 to 863,622. Asian Americans scored the largest gain — 30.86%, or 45,420 people — to stand at 192,586.

The alliance forged between the Latino Caucus and CHANGE Illinois is unlikely to change any council votes. But it could be a game-changer when it comes to raising money and winning the hearts and minds of progressive voters who have long favored taking partisan politics out of the mapmaking process.

The partnership was forged after the Latino Caucus made 10 changes to its map to protect communities from being splintered.

Those changes 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.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) speaks during a press conference for the launch of The People’s Coalition Map before a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday morning, Feb. 23, 2022.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Latino Caucus.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times


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