Clock ticking on Chicago ward remap
Aldermen promise more hearings, but deadlines loom in days
11/23/2011 3:00 PM
Chicagoans hoping to see the new map that’ll define the city’s political boundaries for the next ten years will probably have to wait a little while longer.
The Chicago City Council is supposed to produce a map by Dec. 1 that will redraw boundaries of the city’s 50 wards. But that deadline likely won’t be met, according to Maya Solis, spokeswoman for Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chair of the city council’s Hispanic caucus.
She said the process of getting public input is hardly over — Solis will hold a public hearing at an undetermined location about the ward remap Nov. 28.
Such public hearings will continue throughout the city right up to the end of the month. For example, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) will hold his own public hearing Nov. 28 to address concerns of his mostly West Town and Bucktown constituents.
The main challenges in completing the remapping process are appeasing powerful long-time city council members, as well as the Hispanic caucus, black caucus, and even a caucus of progressive aldermen.
But there’s also the issue of having specific neighborhoods and smaller racial and ethnic minority groups represented. A public hearing on the ward remap at Whitney Young High School Nov. 14 featured community members from the city’s Near South and Near West sides expressing their own specific concerns.
Still another issue is how best to shrink the size of the 2nd Ward, represented by Bob Fioretti. While the city lost 200,000 residents between the 2000 and 2010 Census count, the 2nd gained 15,455 residents.
All these variables seem like a headache for Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), chair of the Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics, which directs the process.
“If it were up to us, we would like everything to stay the same,” the 36-year city council veteran said at the Nov. 14 public hearing. “But we are 200,000 people short of what we were 10 years ago.”
“We have something [a new map] very shortly that you can look at,” Mell added. “Everyone will look at it and be unhappy with it.”
Forty-one of the 50 aldermen must approve of a map drawn by Mell and the rules committee in collaboration with the rest of city council. If 10 aldermen support an alternative map, then the public would choose between the two maps in a March referendum.
The map must follow the 1965 Voting Rights Act and accurately represent the city’s racial minorities. The city council’s black and Hispanic caucuses have given their own remap proposals. The Whitney Young public hearing also highlighted that Asian Americans have their own concerns.
While Chicago’s overall population decreased 7 percent in the last 10 years, the Asian population grew 17 percent. Andrew Kang, a senior staff attorney at the Asian American Institute, said that he would like Chinatown and other Asian neighborhoods consolidated into just one ward. That way Chinatown residents, who are currently split between the 25th and 11th wards, could concentrate their influence toward either Solis or 11th ward Ald. James Balcer.
“I don’t want ward lines further fracturing Asian-American neighborhoods, including Chinatown,” Kang said. “There is no defensible reason to split the Chinatown community into two wards.”
However, according to Maya Solis, other members of the Chinatown community prefer being split into two wards.
Meanwhile, John Theo Harris, representative of the Chicago chapter of the Greek-American Chamber of Commerce, voiced concern that new proposed maps by the Black and Latino caucus would divide representation of Greektown, which is currently in the 27th Ward. “We would like to stay united,” Harris said. “Greektown is now one of the best areas of the city — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Both the 27th and 2nd ward could be radically reshaped. In one proposal drawn up by the city council’s black caucus, the 2nd would no longer snake west to Garfield Park and dip south into Bronzeville. Instead, it would lose much of its physical area and mainly constitute the South Loop and part of the Loop.
Calls to Fioretti were not returned for this story, but the alderman has expressed a preference in prior interviews to representing multiple neighborhoods.
Like Mell and Fioretti, Ald. Solis also prefers not much deviation from the status quo. “He would like to keep it the same, but there are population changes so changes need to be made,” said Maya Solis.
It’s still just not clear when those changes will be made.