Compromise on new City Council ward map could take issue away from Chicago voters

Under the deal, which still needs to be cemented by a Chicago City Council vote next week, the map will create 16 Black majority wards and 14 Latino majority wards — one fewer than the Latino caucus had fought for.

SHARE Compromise on new City Council ward map could take issue away from Chicago voters
Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

A newly created ward map appears to have enough support in the Chicago City Council to avoid forcing a public referendum on the new boundaries.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A deal has been struck on a new Chicago City Council ward map that, if approved, will keep the decision out of the hands of voters.

Under the deal, which still must be cemented by a City Council vote next week, the map will create 16 Black majority wards and 14 Latino majority wards, according to Ald. George Cardenas (12th).

Faced with a May 19 deadline to work it out themselves, the agreement calls for one fewer majority-Latino ward than the council’s Latino Caucus had wanted.

The proposed map also contains the city’s first ward with an Asian American majority.

Demographics are key to ward map negotiations. The city’s Black population is shrinking while the city’s Latino population is growing.

“There’s no need to bring the house down. We can own the house,” Cardenas said, referring to the next remap — in 10 years. 

“Our day is coming for sure. We have to be patient and humble,” he said. 

Cardenas offered a “kudos” to Mayor Lori Lightfoot for her work on Monday to facilitate the agreement and get all sides to sign on to the map.

Cardenas is grateful the map won’t go to a referendum — a step that, he said, would have siphoned energy from council members dealing with other pressing issues, including crime and a city casino. 

“At the end of the day, everyone saw it was in everyone’s best interest to try to solve this,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), head of the council’s Black Caucus.

“As a city, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Lightfoot praised the deal.

“It is a good thing that an overwhelming majority of City Council members have come together and reached a compromise on a new ward map. The road was difficult and raised a number of issues around representation for people of color who historically have been locked out of corridors of power. Not everyone got exactly what they wanted, but forging a compromise and avoiding a referendum is in everyone’s best interests,” she said in a statement issued by her office.

But the compromise map did not sit well with the reform group CHANGE Illinois, which had created a “People’s Map” drawn up by an independent commission. That group forged a partnership with the Latino Caucus, which modified its map to reflect some aspects of the “People’s Map.”

With neither that revised map nor one backed by the council’s Black Caucus getting enough support, the matter appeared headed to a referendum in June — until the late deal.

“If 41 or more elected council members proceed with a backroom map no Chicagoan has seen, the people of Chicago will have been completely and blatantly disrespected and dismissed by the very people who are supposed to represent them,” CHANGE Illinois said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

“For years, people in Chicago have made it clear they want a say in shaping their wards and their communities. For so many elected officials to turn their backs on the people and break their repeated promises in order to yet again serve their own self interests is beyond disheartening,” the group said.

The votes shifted after United Working Families and the Chicago Teachers Union helped persuade several Hispanic members of the council’s Socialist Caucus to break with the Latino Caucus.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said those members “sold out” their fellow Latinos.

“A lot of pressure was being put on my colleagues and as a result you saw folks more interested in self preservation than making sure the Latino community had fair representation.” 

Under the proposed map, Villegas said his 36th Ward boundaries will be stretched dramatically from east to west, looking “more like a CTA bus route than a ward.” 

New boundaries for Chicago’s 36th Ward are shown in light purple.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas slammed the proposed new boundaries for his 36th Ward (in light purple) as looking “more like a CTA bus route than a ward.”

City of Chicago

Also, the voting-age population of Latinos in his ward will drop from 58% to 45%.

Villegas said he plans to vote against the proposed map, and expects five or six other members whose wards will be negatively impacted to do likewise. He prefers the map endorsed by CHANGE Illinois, saying the remap process is too political and should be handled by an independent commission.

Villegas is running for the U.S. House of Representatives, but should he fail to get the Democratic nomination in the new 3rd Congressional District, he said he will seek reelection in the new 36th Ward.

Asked to repeat what he said during a meeting with the Rules Committee and its chair, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), when he learned the likely fate of his ward, Villegas said “I’d rather not say what I said.” 

Though the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice praised the creation of the first Chicago ward with an Asian American majority, centered on Chinatown, it said it was “deeply disappointed” that the West Ridge Asian American community remains split between two wards.

“Asian American representation in City Hall has been long-overdue,” said Justin Sia of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago. “Our historic redistricting achievements will allow Asian American voters to have greater influence in local elections and will help elevate the unique issues that impact our community.”

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