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Confused by  ward remap fight

Updated: January 21, 2012 8:10AM

I always figure part of my job is to try to simplify things for you — to cut through the baloney and tell you what’s really happening.

Toward that end, I spent most of Monday sorting through the two competing ward remap proposals that have been advanced by different groups of aldermen.

And the truth is I’m now more confused than when I started.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says there is only a “very small difference” between the two sides. That may be true, but that only goes to show how even a small difference in the overall outcome can still be the source of a huge disagreement.

The mayor’s opposition notwithstanding, it looks like Chicago voters are going to have a referendum sometime this year to pick which map they prefer.

On the surface, it’s a fight between Hispanic and black aldermen over which group gains and loses power, but it’s way more complicated than that.

Most of the white aldermen have joined forces with the black aldermen, forming a daunting coalition of 32 who sponsored what they’re calling For a Better Chicago map.

But the Hispanic aldermen have some interesting white allies, too, in the group of 16 who signed up to back what they have dubbed the Taxpayer Protection Map.

Most notable teammates of the Hispanic group are the aldermen of the 11th and 13th wards, where Cook County Commissioner John Daley and House Speaker Michael Madigan call the shots. You don’t normally see them going against the majority.

Also in that group is Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who is upset with the Black Caucus map for splitting the Lincoln Park neighborhood into five different wards.

That left only three aldermen who hadn’t signed on to either map as of last week: Toni Foulkes (15th), Michael Zalewski (23rd) and Nicholas Sposato (36th).

Yes, that adds up to 51.

That’s because freshman Ald. James Cappleman (46th) sponsored both proposals, an indication he may be even more confused about what’s going on than I am. A Cappleman aide told me late Monday that he’s now decided he supports the Black Caucus map.

On Monday, supporters of the Latino Caucus’ map played a new card in their fight by promising not to mount a court challenge to the remap if it goes to referendum.

“Whoever wins, wins,” said Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), chairman of the Latino Caucus.

Solis argued it’s only when the ward remap ends up in court, with taxpayers picking up the tab for the lawyers, that the public cost of the aldermen’s disagreement starts running into the millions of dollars.

But Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., chairman of the Black Caucus, scoffed at what he called an “empty promise” from Solis because the court challenges are most likely to come from outside groups like the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund or the NAACP, and once the matter reaches court, there’s no holding down the legal bills.

Brookins said he can’t understand why the Latino Caucus would want the dispute to reach a referendum. With 32 aldermen on one side urging their voters to pick one map and only 16 on the other side — representing in many cases wards with the fewest voters — the outcome would seem apparent.

But Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said Hispanic aldermen would be happy to let voters decide once they’ve heard the facts — including that under the Black Caucus map, North Side wards would have as many as 5,000 more residents than South Side wards to keep blacks from losing another seat.

Former Ald. Dorothy Tillman called me recently to complain that all the ward remap stories were citing the 181,453 decrease in the black population without mentioning that blacks still comprise the largest single population group in Chicago.

That’s true. Blacks comprise 32.9 percent of the city’s population, compared to 31.7 percent white and 28.9 percent Hispanic.

I pointed out to Tillman that 32.9 is roughly one-third and that one-third of the City Council is 17 aldermen. The city currently has 19 black aldermen. The Hispanic Caucus map draws 17 black wards, while the Black Caucus map draws 18 black wards.

Have I given you a headache now, too?

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