Ward remap referendum still not a done deal

The deadline to avoid a referendum, by convincing 41 members of the City Council to agree on a map, is May 19.

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The Chicago City Council at its meeting on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

The Chicago City Council at Wednesday’s meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Chicago City Council still has time to avoid a referendum on a new city ward map, but the campaign for the votes of everyday Chicagoans has already begun.

So far, that campaign has played out mostly through press conferences and press releases as two competing factions preview arguments we could soon see backed up with television ads and mass mailers.

What we’ve seen so far portends a divisive battle that won’t make it much easier for voters to make a decision on which map to support.

Opinion bug


It’s the uncertainty of the outcome of that vote, despite the confidence being expressed by the two opposing sides, that leads me to believe there’s still a deal to be made here.

The deadline to avoid a referendum, by convincing 41 members of the City Council to agree on a map, is May 19. I report that a little sheepishly because I was among those telling you last fall that the deadline was Dec. 1, which turned out to be a fake out deadline.

But with the referendum required to appear on the June 28 Illinois primary ballot, I’m more confident this deadline is real.

Private negotiations are continuing behind the scenes, I’m told, even as the public stances of the principals have hardened.

Personally speaking, I really wouldn’t mind seeing a referendum that would make Chicagoans more aware of how political boundaries are determined and why they’re important.

But I’m concerned a dispute that’s unavoidably about race won’t produce nearly such an enlightened outcome.

Thirty-three council members, including nearly all of its Black members, have proposed what they call the Chicago United Map.

Another 15 council members, including nearly all of its Latino members, have proposed what they call the Coalition Map.

Both maps would yield 16 Black-majority wards, although they get there by different means. The Coalition Map produces 15 Hispanic-majority wards, one more than the Chicago United Map, which is the main point of friction but not the only one.

If Chicago voters were to follow the lead of their own City Council representatives, the Chicago United Map would obviously have the clear advantage in the referendum.

But supporters of the Latino Caucus-backed Coalition Map say it won’t necessarily play out that way.

They’ve formed an alliance with CHANGE Illinois Action Fund, a good-government group that conducted its own independent mapmaking process last year through what it called its “people’s commission.”

At last week’s City Council meeting, the Coalition Map supporters introduced a new map they are now calling the People’s Coalition Map, which makes changes to their own proposal to incorporate elements of the CHANGE Illinois group’s work.

The problem is, by law, the referendum proposal they previously offered can’t be amended, and there’s no way to put the new proposal before the voters — unless the City Council approves a remap plan without reaching the 41-vote threshold, which would reopen the door for a substitute.

Supporters of the People’s Coalition Map say they will pressure for a vote on their proposal at the City Council’s April meeting — or challenge the other side to pass its own version.

But Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who chairs the Rules Committee and led the Chicago United Map effort, told me: “That’s not going to happen.”

Harris said she is still hopeful for an agreement that will get the approval of 41 council members, but otherwise she’s prepared to take the Chicago United Map to referendum.

Harris said the Coalition Map supporters “outmaneuvered themselves” by submitting a referendum proposal in December.

“Haste makes waste. In their haste, they got ahead of themselves,” she said.

Coalition Map supporters counter by noting their early filing gave them first position on the ballot, which they say is a significant advantage in this type of election.

They also are hopeful CHANGE Illinois will continue to support their map even if they can’t make the alterations that were agreed upon, which could help persuade progressive voters to their side.

Madeline Doubek, CHANGE Illinois’ executive director, said that decision would only come later.

“Right now, we’re completely focused on getting the map on the ballot,” she said.

I don’t see the People’s Coalition alliance getting their revised map on the ballot, but maybe in the process of fighting for it, a compromise will finally emerge.

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