Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, elected from one of the last white-dominated political enclaves on the city’s South Side, perceives racism in the effort to redraw the boundaries of his 11th ward to give it an Asian American majority.
In a two-page letter to constituents, Thompson said he supports consolidating all of Chinatown together in the 11th ward but opposes additional efforts to split off portions of Canaryville — or add in sections of McKinley Park — as would be necessary to create a ward that’s more than 50% Asian American.
“Dividing areas or neighborhoods based on race is indeed racism,” Thompson wrote in the letter addressed to his “11th Ward family,” promising to “continue to fight to keep all of our neighborhoods together.”
I believe he’s referring to some form of reverse racism against white people, but it’s so nonsensical, I can’t be sure.
Thompson sent his letter via Twitter after the Chicago City Council Rules Committee unveiled a citywide ward remap plan this past week. A key element in that is to turn the Daley family’s Bridgeport-based fiefdom into the city’s historic first Asian American ward.
The proposal would accomplish that by moving a portion of Chinatown that’s now in the 25th ward to the 11th while switching most of Canaryville out of the 11th ward into Ald. Raymond Lopez’s 15th ward — also adding part of McKinley Park currently in the 12th ward that’s home to many Asian Americans.
A map proposed by the Latino Caucus would achieve the same ends through a slightly different configuration. It also puts most of Canaryville in the 15th ward but leaves McKinley Park untouched, instead stretching the 11th ward’s boundaries into the South Loop.
After initially showing resistance, Thompson offered his own proposed 11th ward map, with a 48% Asian American plurality. He said that should be adequate to satisfy the Chinatown contingent because it no longer splits the neighborhood between two wards.
“So it’s, for all intents and purposes, Asian,” he told me.
But Asian American community leaders have said their goal is to create a ward in which they’re the majority, as they believe is required under the federal Voting Rights Act.
Left unsaid in Thompson’s letter is that Canaryville is a mostly white community that’s an important part of the traditional Daley political base. Thompson is a grandson of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
His letter is seen as publicly opposing an Asian majority ward. That’s certainly my reading.
But he said we’ve got him all wrong.
“I would love to be able to get to 50%,” he told me.
But, as he wrote, that can’t be achieved without dividing neighborhoods, and he says his priority is keeping neighborhoods intact.
Nobody has figured out another way, though Thompson contends he’s still trying to find one as the remap fight goes into overtime.
I asked Thompson to explain his reference to “racism” in the remap process but came away with no clear understanding.
“We’re segregating our community,” he said.
For decades, politicians have used the minority Chinatown community as cogs in the Democratic political machinery under Irish, Italian and, more recently, Latino leadership. The community now understandably wants an opportunity to choose its own leaders.
When I argued the 11th ward map for decades has been drawn to keep the Daleys in power, Thompson objected.
“It’s drawn to keep communities together,” he said, adding that Chinese voters have always supported him.
You might ask: What’s the difference whether the ward is 48% or 51% Asian American?
It would be mostly symbolic, I gather, the majority status an indication the community has arrived politically.
It wouldn’t necessarily make it possible for Asian Americans to elect a member of their own community, with many immigrants not being registered voters.
Thompson might still even be a favorite for re-election — if he survives the greater obstacle of his upcoming income-tax fraud trial.
Chinese American community leaders say they were surprised and disappointed by Thompson’s letter but remain optimistic about their prospects for success.
I like their chances a lot better than his.