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Taxpayers paid $1.2 million to lawyers working on City Council ward remap

Ald. Dick Mell talks with Howard Brookins during meeting Wednesday June 8 2011 City Hall. | Sun-Times Library

Ald. Dick Mell talks with Howard Brookins during the meeting, Wednesday, June 8, 2011, at City Hall. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: September 18, 2012 6:12AM

The parade of attorneys and consultants who guided the City Council through a sometimes contentious remap process cost Chicago taxpayers $1.2 million, records show.

The largest amount — $593,947 — was paid to Election Data Services, which served as a consultant to the City Council’s Rules Committee, chaired by powerful Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), maestro of the remap process.

That was followed by the $263,361 paid to the law firm of Reyes & Kurson and the $146,891 paid to the firm of Tristan & Cervantes. Both firms advised the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus.

Documents turned over to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request also show payments of: $57,076 to the law firm of Jenner & Block that advised the Rules Committee; $55,302 to former Alderman-turned-Circuit Court Judge Freddrenna Lyle (6th) to guide the Black Caucus; $55,135 to attorney Burt Odelson, also to counsel the Black Caucus; $22,500 to Target Insyght and $6,133 to Orestes Aguillon.

Victor Reyes is the former Hispanic Democratic Organization chieftain who led the drive for more Hispanic wards to coincide with Latino population gains in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Homero Tristan, a partner in the law firm of Tristan & Cervantes, is the city’s former human resources commissioner who resigned from the $151,572-a-year job he held for just 13 months less than two weeks after then-Inspector General David Hoffman accused him of lying during an investigation of hiring abuses.

Without a vote to spare, the City Council approved a new Chicago ward map that includes 13 Hispanic wards and two Hispanic “influence” wards to reward Hispanics for their 25,218-person population gain.

The new map that endangers roughly a half-dozen incumbents also includes 18 black wards, down from 19 currently, despite a 181,453-person drop in Chicago’s black population.

The votes of 41 aldermen were needed to avoid a referendum that could have set the stage for a lawsuit. The final vote was 41 to 8. There was not a single vote to spare.

When two of the endangered aldermen tried to exercise the right of any two aldermen to postpone consideration of any matter for one meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s forces used an obscure parliamentary maneuver to prevent the delay.

They were that determined to put the divisive issue to rest and to prevent the hard-fought deal from unraveling.

Ald. Nick Sposato (36th), whose new ward would be 61.2 percent Hispanic, blasted his colleagues for using heavy-handed tactics to ram through a map that the public had not seen and was still being tweaked hours before the vote.

The $1.2 million in legal fees are a drop in the bucket, compared to what happened 20 years ago.

After the 1990 Census, Chicago taxpayers spent $20 million in legal fees — and tens of thousands more on a costly referendum — only to change a handful of blocks in the 18th Ward that resulted in the re-election of then-incumbent Ald. Tom Murphy (18th).

Ten years later, it was just the opposite.

With only one dissenting vote, the City Council wrapped up the most tranquil remap process in recent history by approving a “coalition” ward map that protected incumbents, preserved black representation and offered Hispanics a small reward for their impressive population gains.

The current City Council is comprised of 22 whites, 19 blacks, eight Latinos and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who is of Indian descent.

The political version of musical chairs could leave several incumbent aldermen without seats when the music stops. Sposato’s ward would go from 32 percent Hispanic to 61.2 percent.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) found himself living in the newly-drawn 28th Ward because of a bizarre, snake-like configuration that pushed the 2nd Ward as far north as Wrightwood to reunite Lincoln Park.

Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) was remapped out of her South Side Ward, which would go from majority black to 68.3 percent Hispanic. That would either force her to move and run for re-election in a 70 percent Hispanic ward or stay where she is and challenge Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th), who is also African American.

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