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Proposed Chicago ward remap would add Hispanic seats

35th ward alderman Rey Colon (glasses) and 12th ward alderman George Cardenas of the City Council Latino Caucus hold a press conference to discuss further plans for city ward map redistricting in City Hall on Thursday, November 10, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

The City Council’s Hispanic Caucus has drafted a new Chicago ward map that includes four more super-majority Hispanic wards – for a total of 14 – and two more Hispanic “influence” wards to reward Latinos for their 25,218-person population gain in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, and Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said Hispanic gains would come at the expense of three South Side wards now represented by white aldermen: the 10th, 13th and 23rd.

The fourth new super-majority Hispanic ward – with a Latino population of at least 65 percent – would be located on the Southwest Side. It could pull together Hispanics now living in five black wards: the 3rd, 15th, 16th, 18th and 20th.

Latino “influence” wards – each with an Hispanic population in the 35 to 55 percent range – would be drawn by pooling together Hispanics now living in the 1st and 33rd Wards.

The migration of Latinos to the Northwest Side would also require the creation of a new super-majority ward with fragments of six wards: the 29th, 30th, 31st, 36th, 37th and 38th. But, that would be offset by the loss of the 1st Ward, which would drop from a super-majority to an Hispanic “influence” ward.

“If we’re one third of the city, why are we one-fifth of the City Council? It’s not that we deserve it. That’s the law,” Munoz said of Hispanics, who now represent 29 percent of the city’s population.

Solis added, “We think we can get 14 Hispanic super-majority wards [up from ten currently] and two more influence wards by looking at the masses of Hispanics on the Southwest and Northwest Sides and carving out six wards on the North Side and eight on the South Side. This is what the law allows us to do in terms of redistricting and being a protected class.”

Ten years ago, the City Council wrapped up the most tranquil remap process in recent history by approving a “coalition” ward map that protected incumbents, preserved black representation and offered Hispanics a small reward for their impressive population gains.

That map included 20 black wards, 13 white wards, 10 Hispanic wards and seven wards with a “majority minority” mix of Hispanics, blacks and Asians: the 11th, 39th, 40th, 46th, 48th and 49th.

Only two of the new Hispanic wards – the 14th and 30th – had “super-majorities” of more than 65 percent. Incumbent powerhouse Edward M. Burke has been unopposed for re-election in the 14th Ward ever since.

Solis and Munoz acknowledged that there’s no guarantee the same thing won’t happen this time.

“The 33rd Ward and the 14th Ward have been super-majority Latino wards for 10 years and they’ve elected and re-elected Dick Mell and Ed Burke,” Munoz said.

“Our intention is to create super majority wards that meet the legal criteria. Who they elect is up to them.”

The City Council is currently comprised of 22 whites, 19 blacks, eight Hispanics and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), the first-ever aldermen of Indian descent.

The City Council’s Black Caucus has unveiled a proposed new ward map that includes 19 majority black wards – forfeiting only the 2nd Ward already represented by a white alderman – despite a 181,453-person drop in Chicago’s black population.

On Thursday, Solis disclosed that the Hispanic and Black Caucuses have since held “preliminary discussions.”

“We think we’re pretty much on the same page. … We don’t think their numbers will be affected that much” by the Hispanic map, Solis said.

Former Hispanic Democratic Organization chieftain Victor Reyes, who helped draft the Hispanic Caucus map, said, “We think there’s a clear path to provide fair representation for all of the protected groups.” The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has independently come to the same conclusion, he said.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the Black Caucus, confirmed that the two groups have agreed on a “set of principles” that would preserve 19 majority black wards and carve out 14 majority Hispanic wards.

“We’re in substantial agreement about the numbers and that there’s a possibility of it being done. Where we could potentially get into trouble is politically. That is, how does it affect the other wards and will we be able to get 40 aldermen to sign on to that?” Brookins said.

While Chicago lost 181,453 black residents and nearly 52,499 whites over the last decade, the city’s Hispanic population grew by 25,218. The City Council is working against a Dec. 1 deadline to redraw ward boundaries to coincide with the U.S. Census.

The new map needs 41 out of 50 votes to avoid a referendum. If at least ten aldermen unite behind an alternate map, Chicago voters would choose between the two versions when they go to the polls next March.