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Chinatown leaders eye Daley family’s 11th Ward stronghold for first Asian American-majority city ward

A proposed redrawing of Chicago’s ward map would create that majority by combining parts of Bridgeport, Armour Square and McKinley Park in a new 11th Ward.

Chinatown would become part of the city’s first majority Asian-American ward under an 11th Ward remap proposal from Chinatown community leaders.
Chinatown would become part of the city’s first majority Asian-American ward under an 11th Ward remap proposal from Chinatown community leaders.
Colin Boyle / Sun-Times

The 11th Ward, long the bastion of the Daley family, would be redrawn into Chicago’s first majority Asian American ward under a remap plan being pushed by Chinatown civic leaders.

The move comes as the Daleys’ power is at a low, with Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson under federal indictment, and as Chinatown is flush from a new census count showing Asian Americans are the city’s fastest-growing ethnic group.

“This is the right thing to do,” said C.W. Chan, a businessman and founder of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, who has been trying to consolidate Chinatown into one ward since the 2000 census.

If boundaries were determined on merit, this surely would be the year the greater Chinatown community — now split among the 11th, 12th and 25th wards — would realize its long-pursued goal. It’s the first time Asian Americans, now 7% of the city’s population, have constituted a majority in any section of the city populous enough to comprise a ward.

But the guiding principle of city council redistricting is self-preservation, with aldermen fighting to protect their turf.

There is no indication the Daleys see it as in their interest to cede part of their home base to a group that has shown hints of political independence in recent years after decades of loyalty to Machine Democrats.

As a result, the Asian American community could again come up short for the same reason it wants its own voice. To borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” it doesn’t have anybody in “the room where it happens.”

The council has until Dec. 1 to approve a new ward map dividing the city’s 2.7 million residents into 50 wards of approximately 54,900 people apiece. The real work will be done in secret, with the focus on how to deal with a shrinking African American population and a growing Hispanic community.

With the Bridgeport-centered 11th Ward already having the largest share of the city’s Asian American residents, Chinatown leaders say it’s the logical choice for a majority Asian American ward.

The redrawn 11th Ward map proposed by Asian American civic groups.
The redrawn 11th Ward map proposed by Asian American civic groups.
Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community

They propose to accomplish this by drawing away parts of Armour Square, home to the traditional Chinatown community and business district, from the 25th Ward, and part of adjacent McKinley Park, a neighborhood that’s home to many Asian Americans, from the 12th Ward.

The resulting ward would have a bare 51% Asian majority, said David Wu, executive director of the Pui Tak Center.

It also would be compact and sensible, unlike current ward boundaries that include an odd northern appendage added a decade ago to capture portions of the community around the University of Illinois at Chicago. Wu conceded the map will need to be amended because of one significant oversight: It inadvertently excludes Thompson’s home.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he’s prepared to help create a predominantly Asian American ward.

“That’s the desire of the community, and we will respect the desire of the community,” he said.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said he’s “open to discussion” but sounded skeptical it will happen.

“Have you talked to the 11th Ward? That’s the question,” Cardenas said.

Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the Democratic committeeman, directed remap questions to Thompson, his nephew, who said he’d only received a briefing Thursday on the 11th ward’s census data.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

“At this point, I have no comment on any of the ward boundaries,” Thompson, who is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 18 on charges stemming from his dealings with Bridgeport’s failed Washington Federal Bank for Savings.

Thompson said he is proud of having a diverse ward, saying, “We represent everyone.”

Ten years ago, state leaders agreed to consolidate the Asian American community into one legislative district, leading to the election of state Rep. Theresa Mah. But city leaders never budged on the ward map.

Finally winning a seat at the table might require more aggressive tactics.

One option, if the council lets them down again, would be for Asian Americans to file a civil rights lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act, as African American and Latino voters did to the make the ward map fairer.

They could make a strong case.