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League of Women Voters suit challenges city’s new ward map

Attorney for League Women Voters Thomas Geoghegan speaks media. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Attorney for the League of Women Voters, Thomas Geoghegan, speaks to the media. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 4, 2013 6:30AM

Chicago’s new ward map is unconstitutional because it violates the one-man, one-vote principle and uses “grotesque shapes and boundaries” held together by a narrow alley in some cases to protect incumbents, a federal lawsuit argued Tuesday.

The costly legal battle that aldermen tried desperately to avoid happened anyway — albeit a year late — when the League of Women Voters of Chicago and 14 individuals took their case to federal court.

They’re seeking to have the City Council’s “incumbent protection” map — with wards that differ in population by as much as 8.7 percent — replaced by boundaries divided equally by population and drawn by an “impartial blue-ribbon commission” or “individual special appointee.”

They’re also asking a federal judge to prohibit Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration from immediately implementing the disputed boundaries when it comes to making pivotal decisions impacting zoning, traffic, transportation, housing, sanitation, licensing and aldermanic menu spending.

“I’m here because Rahm Emanuel’s administration invalidated an election and also the peoples’ vote,” said Ernie Lukasik, a resident of the old 36th Ward and the new 29th.

“By early implementation of the re-districting, the administration infringes on a basic tenet of democracy. That is, the ability to choose your representative. It’s time the leaders of Chicago be held accountable for their actions. We seek a fair map that is based on one-person, one vote.”

Platintiffs’ attorney Tom Geoghegan said there’s no excuse for a map that has individual wards that differ in population by “thousands” of voters. He pointed to the 2nd, 15th and 36th Wards as the most pointed examples of wards “arbitrarily” drawn. “They’re so the opposite of the legal obligation that a ward be compact, they’re even violating the principle of contiguity that a ward be connected. The 2nd Ward is held together, at some points, just by an alley,” he said.

Geoghegan said a statement made by Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, underscores the motive behind the bizarre configurations: The map was drawn the way it was to get the 41 votes needed to avoid a referendum on competing ward maps that would have let the voters decide.

“That may be politics. That may be the `Chicago Way.’ But there are rules of law that have to apply. One of those rules is one- person, one-vote. Another rule is, you don’t put in the map early so you have access to the voters you’re gonna be in front of in 2015 if those voters haven’t consented to it,” he said.

On Tuesday, O’Connor said all of the attorneys involved in the contentious remap process ­— representing black, Hispanic and white aldermen — agreed that the map that attracted 41 votes could withstand a court challenge in spite of the population differences among individual wards.

“If they’re right, it is a shame that we will be spending a lot of money defending something we all agreed is defensible,” he said.

As for the early-bird implementation of the new map, O’Connor said,

“We are trying to do this in the same way we’ve done the last two or three remaps. If the court says we should stay this, we’ll abide by it.”

The city has not had a chance to review the lawsuit, but Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said “It is important to remember that the City Council resolved their issues and approved the ward remap, rather than allow it to go to a referendum, saving taxpayers $30 million in legal costs and ensuring that the city wouldn’t have to expend precious resources to resolve relatively minor differences.”

Without a vote to spare, the City Council approved a new Chicago ward map in January, 2012 that includes 13 Hispanic wards and two Hispanic “influence” wards” to reward Hispanics for their 25,218-person population gain in the 2010 U.S. Census.

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.

Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) is one of a handful of incumbent aldermen endangered by a map that cut the heart out of his Northwest Side ward and nearly doubled its Hispanic population — from 32 percent to 61.2 percent.

Sposato has 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.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has been equally outspoken. He finds himself living in the newly redrawn 28th Ward because his old ward was shifted to the North Side in one of the most bizarre configurations the city has ever seen.

Both aldermen have accused their colleagues of disenfranchising voters and overruling the legal advice outlined in a Feb. 2, 2012 memorandum written by Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton.

In it, Patton cited legal precedent and wrote, “These cases establish that the 2011 aldermanic elections were for full, four-year terms notwithstanding the intervening redistricting and that these aldermen represent the constituencies which elected them…Applicable law provides that the 2001 map, which was in effect for the 2011 aldermanic elections, should govern for the duration of the those four-year terms.”

The city’s Law Department said it has not yet seen the lawsuit and, therefore, had no immediate comment on it.

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