The Chicago City Council is set to vote Monday on a new ward map based on the 2020 census that will shape Chicago politics for the next decade, keeping Black politicians’ advantage at City Hall intact.
Members of the City Council’s Black Caucus and supporters of the deal reached earlier this week spent the majority of Friday’s meeting of the Rules Committee congratulating each other on reaching a deal that will likely avert what would have been the first ward map referendum in 30 years.
However, despite the celebratory tone struck by the members of the Black Caucus and their supporters, members of the Latino Caucus remained silent — an indication that the racially polarizing debate that is set to be resolved just three days before the deadline has left deep scars.
The agreement was brokered in part by the leaders of the United Working Families political organization, which supports progressive policies and politicians.
If approved at a special City Council meeting set for 11:30 a.m. Monday, the map will be the second major piece of legislation that would have failed to pass without the support of some of the City Council’s most progressive members, including those who are members of the Chicago chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.
The approval of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 budget only passed in October with the backing of progressive City Council members, who celebrated the spending plan’s focus on affordable housing, mental health, violence prevention, youth job programs and help for unhoused Chicagoans.
The map set for a vote Monday keeps Black politicians’ advantage at City Hall intact by creating 16 wards with a majority of Black voters and one ward with a plurality of Black voters. The map has 14 wards with a majority of Latino voters, rather than the 15 wards that the City Council’s Latino Caucus had demanded.
Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward), a member of the City Council’s Black Caucus, was one of several people to praise Rules Committee Chair Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward), for presiding over the redistricting effort and getting a deal done.
“I have the utmost respect for you,” King told Harris.
The map also creates a new 11th Ward with a majority of Asian American voters centered around Chinatown — the first in Chicago’s history.
Always fraught, this year’s remapping effort was 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%. The people of Chicago are 31.4% white, 29.9% Latino, 28.7% Black and 6.9% Asian, according to the 2020 U.S. census.
While the map poised for approval has been the subject of more public scrutiny than any other revised map in Chicago’s history, it still allows incumbent alderpeople to pick their own voters and punish their enemies while boosting their allies.
At least three candidates who have announced they plan to challenge incumbent alderpeople in the February 2023 election found their homes moved from one ward to another. State law will allow them to run in whichever ward they choose during the 2023 election — but they would have to move if they win and choose to run for reelection in 2027.
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.
Once the map is signed into law by the mayor, it could be challenged in court for violating those standards. A lawsuit could cost the city tens of millions of dollars.
One of the wards that would see significant changes under the new map is the 36th Ward, now represented by Ald. Gilbert Villegas. Under the tentative map, the ward would stretch from Schorsch Village on the Far Northwest Side along a narrow corridor that follows Grand Avenue to West Town.
The chair of the Latino Caucus, Villegas led the unsuccessful effort to draw a map with 15 wards that are home to a majority of Latino voters while running for Congress.
Ald. Silvana Tabares, the vice chair of the Latino Caucus, would also see the boundaries of her 23rd Ward significantly changed and drawn into the shape of a backwards letter C in order to exclude Midway Airport, which would move to Ald. Marty Quinn’s 13th Ward.
The 15th Ward, now represented by Ald. Raymond Lopez, who is running for mayor, has also been significantly redrawn. During the meeting’s roll call, Lopez declared himself present by identifying himself as the alderman of “what formerly was the 15th Ward.”
Lopez endorsed the map crafted by the Latino Caucus, as did Ald. Brian Hopkins, who would see the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment moved from his North Side ward to Ald. Scott Waguespack’s 32nd Ward.
The tentative map would move the 34th Ward — now on the Far South Side, which saw a steep drop in population during the past decade — to the booming area south and west of the Loop. That newly created ward includes the home of Bill Conway, who ran unsuccessfully for State’s Attorney and told the Sun-Times he is considering a run for the City Council.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward), the second longest serving member of the City Council, plans to retire after her term ends in 2023.
Austin is awaiting trial on charges she took bribes and lied to FBI agents. Austin has pleaded not guilty.
During Friday’s meeting, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) praised Austin for making “the ultimate sacrifice.”
Austin told her colleagues the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, and I was the one.”