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As city preps to fight remap lawsuit, alderman asked to preserve documents

Richard Mell

Richard Mell

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Updated: May 28, 2013 7:53PM

Chicago aldermen are being asked to preserve all “documents and other written instruments” pertaining to Chicago’s new ward map — including e-mails, texts and memos — to avoid jeopardizing the city’s case in a high-stakes legal battle.

“The city’s case is strong and we do not want to jeopardize our position with any potential accusations that pertinent documents were destroyed, misplaced or discarded,” Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell (33rd) wrote fellow aldermen last week in a letter similar to the one sent out by Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton.

In the April 16 letter, Mell noted that city attorneys had appeared in federal court on that day to defend the remap process as well as the city’s decision to implement the new boundaries two years before the next aldermanic election.

“The judge granted the plaintiffs limited discovery, which may include a request for documents and other written instruments [e-mails, phone texts, written memos, etc.] from members of the City Council,” Mell wrote.

“As a result, I am communicating to you…the necessity of preserving all such documentation presently in your possession that pertains to the remapping process.”

When negotiations nearly came to blows, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, helped broker a compromise, delivered the 41 votes needed to avoid a referendum and used an obscure parliamentary maneuver to muscle it through the City Council without delay in January, 2012.

On Wednesday, O’Connor acknowledged that the bargaining got heated at times and, “There were a few rooms I was in where I wouldn’t want to have to speak those things in front of my children.” But, he doubts whether anything damaging to the city’s case was put in writing.

“I’m not aware of any texts that get exchanged during those things. Most of what’s done is face-to-face,” he said.

“We just didn’t want to incur the wrath of a federal court judge by looking like we destroyed things — because clearly, there is nothing to destroy. ...It’s a precaution to ensure that we don’t take a good case and harm it by having someone think we were hiding the ball.”

Platintiffs’ attorney Tom Geoghegan refused to discuss the Mell and Patton letters.

Three weeks ago, the League of Women Voters and 14 individuals filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Chicago’s new ward map on grounds that 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.

They’re seeking to have the “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 “special appointee.”

They’re also asking a federal judge to prohibit City Hall from immediately implementing the disputed boundaries in decisions impacting everything from zoning, traffic, transportation and housing to sanitation, licensing and how aldermen spend their neighborhood-improvement allowance.

Geoghegan quoted O’Connor as saying the map was drawn that way 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.

Without a vote to spare, the City Council approved a map 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 boundaries endanger 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.

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