Sorting out the new ward boundaries
01/25/2012 10:00 PM
I’ve never seen my South Loop neighbors as emotional as they’ve been since the City of Chicago ward remap passed the city council 41 to 8 last week. The levels of both elation and despair have reached heights unsurpassed by the grandest of the grand opera. You can hear both cheers and the wails on the streets of Big Bill Dawson’s old stomping grounds.
“Yaaaaaay,” many of the neighbors are saying, “we’re through with Bob Fioretti. He never kept his word and we’re glad he’s a goner.” They may not know exactly what ward they’re being assigned to come 2015 — 3rd, 4th or 25th — but they’re happy to see either Pat Dowell, Will Burns or Danny Solis become their presumptive leader. Even if the new map means that their neighborhood conclaves get split up into different wards, and to get anything done regarding neighborhood streets, parks and schools may take the concentrated interest, dedication and political skills of a whole smattering of aldermen, not just one.
Others are heartbroken and apoplectic that our alderman’s fellow aldermen have airlifted him out of the old 2nd Ward and into the new 2nd Ward on the North Side (not to mention gerrymandering his home into the 28th Ward).
They don’t want to see, for example, a cohesive neighborhood like Dearborn Park get split between two wards. The heart of Dearborn Park at State and Roosevelt, which happens to be precisely where I live, has become a “natural” ward boundary, spoked in every direction — kind of like that spot in the southwest United States where you can stand in four states at once.
The criers don’t want to see a guy go who runs around the ward removing graffiti with his own two hands. Fioretti’s new ward looks like a swirling yo-yo string: it begins in Streeterville and then squiggles and squiggles, back and forth and back again, mile after mile, round and round until it ends with the yo-yo itself in the middle of Ukrainian Village (not to mention the middle of the 1st Ward).
Fioretti seems to think that having his 2nd Ward pulled out from under him is payback for prevailing over a black woman five years ago in a predominantly black ward. But I think it might be because of Fioretti’s strong support from — and loud voice for — labor unions, which under the Rahm “I’m the only game in town” administration is a no-no.
Rahm probably thinks giving Fioretti a ward shaped like a long, slithering snake will make him dizzy and shut him up. But Fioretti might buy a new home in the new ward and win. As I’ve often mentioned, Fioretti campaigns on street corners like nobody’s business; I think he clones himself. And his new ribbon-like ward is so thin, it’s made up of almost nothing but street corners. All Fioretti needs to do is find a surveyor to identify them. That’s the hard part.
But enough of that. What about us? We’ve been through two hotly contested elections with Fioretti. We’ve been with him through new infrastructure, thwarted real estate developments, tax increment financing controversy and life-threatening tonsil cancer. Assuming this new map passes constitutional muster, we will split up like a broken family in 2015.
Are the aldermen in the new wards that will represent us in three years willing to service us now? I suppose they can always call 311 on our behalf if we ask. (Little known secret: that’s what the aldermen do when they try to help their constituents get something done.) But what if a big issue hits, what do we do then? Who rules? Who will care?
Fioretti — unless he wants to maintain good service in his current ward to audition for his new 2015 constituents — doesn’t have much incentive to keep us well-lit, garbage-free and snow and ice-less.
My neighbors are asking good questions about this jaw-dropping change. At last weekend’s Greater South Loop Association meeting, 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell made a positive statement to her would-be South Loop constituents: that she understands each neighborhood within a ward has unique characteristics and unique needs, which she intends to respect.
One 2nd Warder soon-to-become a 3rd Warder worried that her neighborhood — “Motor Row,” soon-to-become “Music Row” — had little connection to greater Bronzeville, but much more in common with Printers Row, which is going to be in the 4th Ward with Ald. Will Burns, who represents Kenwood.
Dowell told her that the neighborhoods she was talking about were the 77 distinct ones identified decades ago by the University of Chicago — communities long since obsolete by overlays of ward boundaries, gentrification and real estate agents, not to mention block clubs, homeowners associations and garden walk aficionados who have come up with a myriad of pretty names for their neighborhoods in order to sell homes and raise property values.
Which gave me an idea: Chicagoans who want contiguous wards, grid-related services and a ward map that makes some logical geographic sense may want to insist that their leaders use that historic U of C invention. Why not 77 aldermen? It creates at least 27 new jobs in our city and lots of staffers get hired, too!
But for now, we 2nd Ward residents have to decide to whom to cozy up. Our current alderman doesn’t really need to have our best interests at heart anymore, even though we’ve elected him and he’s charged with giving us what we demand. And our soon-to-be aldermen, who have been handed our neighborhoods far north of their native turf, aren’t yet responsible to us.
Splitting our South Loop geographic commonality of desire and purpose reminds me of how the Brits — after World War 1 — arbitrarily carved up the Middle East. And we know how that turned out.
It’s a pity that neighborhoods like Dearborn Park, Printers Row and Motor Row have no oil wells under the lofts and townhomes, rowhouses, midrises, restaurants and shops. If we did, we might have had a bargaining chip — and used it.