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36th Ward completely redrawn — the voters’ reward for electing a new guy

Updated: January 5, 2012 8:28AM

Friday afternoon is normally a sleepy time in City Hall’s aldermanic offices.

Those aldermen still working are more likely to be out in their wards than downtown, and the few sticking around City Hall are generally in laid-back mode.

That was hardly the case this Friday as dozens of aldermen, adrenalin pumping and sharp elbows at the ready, lurked in the third-floor office area late into the evening.

Inside, the single most important piece of city business to any alderman was being hammered out behind closed doors — the new boundaries that will govern Chicago’s 50 wards for the next decade — and nobody wanted to get caught unaware.

Sometime in the next few days, aldermen hope to strike a deal among themselves on a new ward map that they would present as a fait accompli to be approved Dec. 14.

At nightfall, they were still at loggerheads, primarily because of a dispute over competing maps advanced by African-American and Latino aldermen.

The remap process stinks because it is governed almost entirely by just two considerations: incumbent protection and race.

First and foremost, aldermen want to save their own jobs. Priority number two is building or protecting the power base of their own racial group.

The public interest is basically a non-consideration, except as it relates for better or worse to being grouped together with others of the same skin color.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the tentative plans for the new 36th Ward.

The 36th Ward hugs the city’s western border with Oak Park on the south, Elmwood Park and River Grove to the west and Harwood Heights on the north.

It’s a racially diverse area with neighborhoods like Galewood where African-Americans have managed to move in without all the whites moving out. Long an Italian-American enclave, the ward is currently one-third Latino.

The new alderman there is Nicholas Sposato, a former firefighter who got the job by beating John Rice in April. Rice had been appointed to the post on the recommendation of his more powerful predecessor, William J.P. Banks, the long-time Democratic ward committeeman.

In what surely qualifies as a prime example of the law of unintended consequences, the City Council’s mapmakers have preliminarily decided that the reward for 36th Ward voters who threw off the yoke of the Machine is to take away their ward.

The proposed new 36th Ward would abandon three-fourths of its current territory to move eastward in two prongs so that it can become a 67 percent Latino majority ward, filling a need to add another Latino ward on the North Side because of population shifts.

With Sayre as its western border, the new 36th reaches out in the shape of slingshot laid on its side to maximize Latino populations groups currently in the 29th, 30th, 31st, 37th and 38th wards.

Under boundaries previewed to Sposato, residents of Galewood, Schorsch Village and part of Montclare would find themselves in the West Side’s 29th Ward, now represented by Ald. Deborah Graham and before that by the now-incarcerated Ike Carothers. Those living in Belmont Heights and Belmont Terrace would switch to the 38th Ward of Ald. Tim Cullerton.

Sposato’s own home was originally drawn into the 29th, too, but that was later amended to add him back to the 36th.

Here’s why it stinks: If Banks were still the alderman, this wouldn’t be happening.

Banks had clout. Banks had seniority. Banks was one of them.

If Banks were still the alderman, some other Northwest Side ward would have been slated for upheaval instead. (And by the way, don’t look to Banks as the culprit because he’s been mapped out of the ward, too.)

Sposato is new and on his own, so his colleagues decided he was expendable.

“My three worst days as an alderman,” a gloomy Sposato told me, referring to the events of the past week.

But my concern is not for Sposato but the residents of his ward. The problem is that what’s best for them was nowhere in the equation. They elected a new guy, so their community loses. Where’s the sense in that?

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