City Council Poised to Miss Deadline to Approve New Ward Map Amid Racially Polarized Debate

Video: Alds. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) discuss the latest on the map-making process. (Produced by Alexandra Silets)

Negotiations over a new ward map that will shape Chicago politics for the next decade remained deadlocked Tuesday, with no sign of a possible compromise less than a day before the deadline set by state law.

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During an interview on “Chicago Tonight” Tuesday, neither Black Caucus Chair Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) nor Latino Caucus Chair Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) gave any ground in the battle for political power in Chicago.

Ervin said the Black Caucus will not accept a map with fewer than 17 wards with a majority of Black voters.

“We believe that is the proper number for our community,” Ervin said.

At the same time, the Latino Caucus has demanded a map with no fewer than 15 wards with a majority of Latino voters.

“Our community is being locked out,” Villegas said.

Both groups have endorsed calls from Asian American groups in Chicago to craft a ward centered around Chinatown that has a majority of Asian American voters — but neither group wants that ward to reduce their share of political power.

Ervin urged Villegas to accept a map with 14 wards with a majority of Latino voters — one more than the current map — and said his members would accept a map with one fewer ward with majority of Black voters than the current map.

Villegas said that proposal was a nonstarter, saying it would violate the Voting Rights Act.

If 41 alderpeople do not agree on a map before midnight, the final decision could be made by voters for the first time in 30 years via a referendum.

“The 41 votes are not there,” Villegas said.

More negotiations “would have to happen real quickly” before the Latino Caucus files an alternate map with the Chicago City Clerk, triggering a referendum, Villegas said.

“The reality is this has been the least transparent process in probably the city’s history,” Villegas said, noting that 14 alderpeople may be asked to vote on a map that they — and Chicagoans — have not yet seen.

Just 36 alderpeople have seen the Rules Committee map, which has been drawn behind closed doors and not released to the public.

Ervin said that was an unfair characterization.

Video: The conversation continues with Alds. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward). (Produced by Alexandra Silets)

Even after a referendum is triggered, a vote of 41 alderpeople could approve a map and avoid asking voters to pick from all of the submitted maps as part of the June 28, 2022, primary election.

Prospects for a compromise dropped precipitously just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced she had flown to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials to discuss President Joe Biden’s infrastructure agenda as well as COVID-19 relief efforts.

The mayor’s second trip to the nation’s capital in 15 days meant she would not be present to preside over not just one but two scheduled meetings of the Chicago City Council set for Wednesday, the deadline set by state law for the City Council to approve new boundaries for the city’s 50 wards.

It would be nearly unprecedented in Chicago history for a mayor to miss a City Council meeting, especially one with such a crucial item on the agenda. If the meeting takes place, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) would preside in his role as president pro tem of the City Council.

Less than 30 minutes after the mayor’s announcement, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward) canceled a planned meeting of the City Council’s Rules Committee that had been set to start at 1 p.m. — meaning that Chicagoans would be forced to continue to wait to see a proposed map that could be voted on as soon as Wednesday.

Always fraught, this year’s remapping effort is particularly tense because of the city’s changing racial makeup. While Chicago’s Black population dropped 10%, its Latino population jumped 5% and its Asian American population surged 30%, according to the 2020 census.

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, which is designed to protect the voting rights of Black, Latino and Asian residents.

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.

First term Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th Ward), who could see the boundaries of her South Side ward change significantly, said she hoped the final map would unite Englewood in one ward so she could better serve residents “not political pettiness.”

Ervin blamed the decision by the Latino Caucus to put out a citywide map proposal for making the map-drawing process acrimonious.

However, Villegas said the map-drawing process has been complicated by the decision by Harris to hire attorney Michael Kasper, who frequently represented former House Speaker Michael Madigan, to draw their new ward map.

Although the map drawn by Kasper for the City Council has not yet been released publicly, sources told WTTW News that it was drawn to protect indicted Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward), who faces a trial in 2022 on 14 counts of corruption, and Ald. Marty Quinn (13th Ward), a close ally of Madigan.

By protecting Burke and Quinn, who are both white, the map drawn by Kasper for the Rules Committee, reduces the number of wards that could have a majority of Latino voters and would ensure the Black Caucus has 17 wards with a majority of Black voters.

“This is just a ploy to disenfranchise Latinos,” Villegas said.

Other flashpoints in the remap battle are:

–Lincoln Yards: Ald. Scott Waguespack wants the massive development to be part of the 32nd Ward, not Ald. Brian Hopkins’ 2nd Ward.

–Bridgeport: Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson is urging his colleagues not to break up the 11th Ward in order to create a ward with a majority of Asian American voters centered in Chinatown by remapping the ancestral seat of the Daley political machine.

–The 78: The massive development south of the Loop and north of Chinatown is now part of Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez’s 25th Ward, but could become part of Ald. Pat Dowell’s 3rd Ward — and could become the home of Chicago’s casino.

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

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