‘We’re Behind the Eight Ball’: Debate Rages Over New Chicago Ward Map With 15 Days Until Deadline

Video: Alds. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) and Emma Mitts (37th Ward) join “Chicago Tonight” to discuss the ward map drawing process. (Produced by Alexandra Silets)

The leaders of the Chicago City Council’s Black and Latino caucuses said during a “Chicago Tonight” interview Tuesday that they could endorse a new Chicago ward map with 18 wards with a majority of Black voters and 15 wards with a majority of Latino voters.

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But it is not clear it would be possible to craft that map, given the fact that Chicago’s Latino population rose 5% from 2010 to 2020, while Chicago’s Black population dropped 10%, according to the 2020 census. In addition, that could require splitting neighborhoods and community areas up — and may thwart efforts to create a ward centered around Chinatown with a majority of Asian American voters.

But Black Caucus Chair Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) and Latino Caucus Chair Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) said on “Chicago Tonight” they would try — and potentially avoid a referendum that could ask Chicago voters to decide on the boundaries that will shape Chicago politics for the next decade.

“The reality is that what we’ve put forward is based on data and the Voting Rights Act as well as what the citizens of Chicago want,” Villegas said, of the map proposed by the Latino Caucus, which would reduce the number of wards with a majority of Black voters by two to 16 wards.

But time is growing short for alderpeople to craft a compromise.

“They’re behind the eight ball when it comes to this,” Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) said. “This thing is due Dec. 1. This is a conversation we should have had in January.”

Residents of Chicago should have had a bigger role in “creating a map that is fair,” Taylor said.

Fewer than a dozen Chicagoans participated in three public hearings held by the City Council’s Rules Committee, led by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward). A fourth public hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday to discuss the proposal from the Latino Caucus. The Black Caucus has not submitted a proposed map, and is expected to endorse the proposal from Harris, who is the mayor’s floor leader.

But Harris acknowledged Friday that most of the debate over the ward map has been taking place behind closed doors, shielded from public view and without input from Chicagoans. That process began in July.

“We have been on this process now for a minute,” Harris said. “I know that for some it may seem like we just started weeks ago, but it’s hard to do a mapping process also on top of our budget process, so I apologize to the public who feels like that we aren’t listening and we aren’t hearing. We are listening, we are hearing your responses.”

If 10 alderpeople agree on an alternative map — either the one drawn by the Latino Caucus or another group — it would force a referendum that would put the competing maps up to a vote, officials said. The deadline to trigger a special election on ward maps is Dec. 1.

A referendum is the “nuclear option,” Ervin said.

“It is probably in everyone’s best interest to sit down and forge a plan that works,” Ervin said.

State law requires Chicago wards to be “nearly equal as practicable” while being as “contiguous” and “compact” as possible while complying with the Voting Rights Act. 

Since Chicago’s population in 2020 was 2,746,388 residents, each ward should have 54,928 residents, according to data presented to the Chicago City Council.

Always fraught, this year’s remapping effort is particularly tense not only because the Black Caucus is determined to hang on to 18 wards, but also because of the Latino Caucus’ continuing anger over the remap after the 2010 census, which many caucus members believed was unfair to Latino Chicagoans.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has yet to weigh in what a new ward map should look like, deferring to Harris. The mayor said on Friday that “there has to be some public process” before the maps are approved, but has not offered specifics on what that should look like.

During the 2019 campaign for mayor, and after she took office, Lightfoot said an independent commission should redraw the map.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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