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Remap referendum faces tight timetable

Updated: January 21, 2012 8:09AM



If feuding City Council factions can’t avoid a $30 million repeat of the 1990 remap referendum, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is prepared to push his own ballot question — asking voters if they want to cut the City Council in half, the mayor’s floor leader warned Monday.

During the Richard M. Daley-to-Emanuel transition, Emanuel broached the subject of shrinking the nation’s second-largest City Council from 50 to 25 members, only to settle for a 10 percent cut in City Council spending.

But if aldermen can’t forge an agreement on a new ward map, the mayor is prepared to resurrect the issue, said his floor leader, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th).

O’Connor raised the stakes after the Hispanic Caucus agreed Monday to let Chicago voters choose a new ward map and accept the results — without filing a legal challenge — whether or not their version wins. They asked the other side to do the same — and O’Connor refused.

“If their position is they’re done trying to negotiate and simply want to go to a vote of the populace, that will encourage the mayor to file his referendum to bring the Council down to 25 members,” O’Connor said. “The mayor has been encouraging us for the last several weeks to resolve this. If we continue to show an inability to resolve it and go to the expensive proposition of having a referendum, then that position of going down to 25 aldermen is something the mayor would look at again. He’s already indicated he was somewhat in favor of that.”

O’Connor said he has “no doubt” that Chicago voters frustrated by the prolonged recession and furious about the steady stream of corruption scandals would approve a non-binding referendum to cut the Council in half.

“We’re going to a grid system on how we handle [garbage collection]. We’re already there with Forestry. We’re taking out the traditional role of aldermen. People would see that as an economy they’d be willing to embrace. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what would happen,” he said.

“The state Legislature could look at that and say, ‘The people have spoken.’ I don’t think any of these guys want to see that kind of referendum on the ballot.”

Ald. Danny Solis didn’t give an inch after being informed of O’Connor’s threat. “Twenty-five or 35 aldermen doesn’t scare me. Fine. Then we’ll end up with fair representation in the city,” Solis said.

“It’s not about protecting incumbents. It’s about bringing fair representation to the voters and sparing them a legal challenge so they don’t get stuck with a bill they can’t afford.”

Solis sent a letter to Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the Black Caucus, urging him sign onto the pledge to abide by referendum results. But Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said, “I don’t think it would be a wise decision to waive your legal rights on an outcome of a referendum.”

Last week, negotiations aimed at redrawing ward boundaries in a way that could attract the 41 votes needed to avoid a referendum broke down.

The Hispanic Caucus pulled the plug and filed its own map that includes 17 black wards, 13 Hispanic wards and three Hispanic “influence” wards to reward Hispanics for their 25,218-person population gain in the 2010 U.S. Census. It was signed by 16 aldermen — six more than the number needed to force a referendum.

African Americans, who lost 181,453 residents, filed their own map preserving 18 black wards at the expense of the 11th Ward, the political power base of the Daley family.



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