New ward boundaries turn Chicago into political sausage
01/11/2012 10:00 PM
Well neighbors, here we are in the final stretch of legislative redistricting and reapportionment that takes place every 10 years after the census. Do you feel the excitement? I donít. Chicagoís aldermanic map is the last to be completed, and has been wildly uninteresting. The only excitement would come if aldermen canít get one passed, and the maps go before the electorate for a vote during the March 20th primary. I think consensus is coming, for if thereís one thing that lights a fire under our electeds, itís the fear of giving power to the people.
As residents and voters, itís important to understand what goes into the recipe of new aldermanic ward boundaries, even if we havenít been given an opportunity to stir the proverbial pot. Chicagoís total population is just under 2.7 million people. Along with provisions made to meet voting rights requirements, wards are divided evenly by population, which means just under 54,000 people need to be assigned to each ward.
The job of mapping seems simple, until a dash of gerrymandering and a pinch of politics get tossed into the mix.
Factors in defining the new boundaries are plentiful. It seems obvious that given the power, aldermen draw lines that allow them to continue living in their current homes and representing their current communities. Now imagine those aldermen with more political power drawing lines that move their political enemies into completely different neighborhoods, or provide them with wards encompassing slivers of various communities so they cannot form a base of support.
Negotiations with politically significant voters can push a wardís boundary down an alleyway to encompass a single building. Swaths of vacant land are drawn into a single ward, paving the way for the power of TIF dollars and the promise of economic development to be wielded by one person, while public parks are divided in half so all decisions must be made by two.
To continue with our cooking analogy, itís not enough to be concerned about the quality of the recipe as it relates to dishing out quality government. Begin to wonder who might be spiking the drinks.
In December, the West Loop Community Organization heard about one of the proposed maps and sent an email to members encouraging them to contact the alderman chairing the committee responsible for redistricting. In part, it read:
ďWe have received information that the most recent version of the remap has the 2nd Ward ending up in Lakeview. This would mean that Ö Alderman Fioretti would be replaced by Alderman James Balcer. Alderman Balcer has very little connection to our area, nor has he worked on any of our local school, infrastructure, or park issues. Alderman Fioretti has lived in the West Loop for a long time and has been woven into the civic life here for many years Ö We deserve to keep the Alderman we elected overwhelmingly in the last election in February.Ē
The map referred to in the email is the one released by the city councilís Black Caucus. With 41 aldermen needed to approve a final map, this map and the one released by the Latino Caucus have emerged as the most likely to succeed. Dubbed The Map for a Better Chicago and the Taxpayer Protection Map respectively, both maps purport to provide appropriate representation to Chicagoís residents while meeting federal voting rights requirements. Each divides our neighborhood in different ways.
The Black Caucus map is sponsored by 32 black and white aldermen, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd). The map pushes the 2nd Ward north above the North Sideís 32nd Ward, and from what I can tell, has the West Loop floating in and around the 11th (Balcer), 25th (Solis), and 42nd (Reilly) Wards. The Latino Caucus map shifts the dividing line between the 27th and 2nd Wards from what is now a more north-south division down West Madison Street, to an east-west division line at Ashland Avenue.
So though we are forced to watch as the nasty sausage of political boundaries cranks through the grinder, we have very little opportunity to suggest our own ingredients.