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Ward map redraw may become ‘a mess’

Nick SposaChicago fireman was just elected alderman 36th ward biggest shocker Tuesday night. He is photographed his CumberlAvenue firehouse Thursday

Nick Sposato, a Chicago fireman, was just elected alderman of the 36th ward in the biggest shocker of Tuesday night. He is photographed at his Cumberland Avenue firehouse on Thursday, April 7, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 30, 2011 12:16AM

Chicago’s ward bosses (“Democratic Ward Committeemen,” technically) began gathering signatures last week to run for re-election, as did their challengers.

A funny thing could happen on the way to Election Day this time around. Candidates for ward committeeman must turn in their signatures between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5.

That’s about the time Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) is hoping his committee will have the wards redrawn based on new census numbers. But he admits it may be later than that. “We’re hoping by Thanksgiving,” Mell said.

But what if the maps are not done until after the signatures are due?

That means people could collect signatures for their North Side ward only to find that the map-drawers have re-drawn it to be primarily a West Side ward.

“That’s a mess — that happened before, 20 years ago,” Mell admitted.

The Board of Elections is operating on the assumption that candidates will run under the current ward boundaries.

But if the aldermen put an effective date on the new map that precedes the March 20 primary election, the confusing scenario of running for committeeman of a ward that has precious little of the old ward where signatures were gathered could happen, said Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen.

The uncertainty is less for people who live on the city’s edge.

The 41st Ward in the Northwest corner of the city can only move so far from its moorings so Ald. and Committeeman Mary O’Connor is not too worried about Mell’s committee drawing her out of her ward, she said.

Likewise in the Beverly-based 19th Ward of Ald. Matt O’Shea and the Southeast Side 10th Ward of Ald. John Pope (10th)

But those in the middle of the city could see their wards change drastically as Mell and the other drawers try to maximize an ever-shrinking African-American population and accommodate a growing but oven low-voting Hispanic population.

The city lost about 180,000 African-American residents over the past 10 years. That’s about three wards.

But African-American aldermen are gearing up to fight any map that cuts more than one African-American ward.

Some of the highest growth is downtown. Booming condos encircling the Loop could be three new wards of their own.

In most cases the ward’s alderman also serves as committeeman. That is not the case in Bridgeport, where Cook County Commissioner John Daley serves as committeeman of the 11th Ward, or south of Midway Airport where Speaker of the House Michael Madigan serves as committeeman of the 13th Ward.

Daley is under pressure to let go of Chinatown, which Asian-American groups would like to see as the base of the city’s first Asian-American ward.

Madigan, Mell and Ald. Ed Burke (14th) serve as committeemen of increasingly Hispanic wards, though they keep winning in those wards, as Italian-American Ald. Bob Fioretti does in the mostly African-American 2nd Ward.

Aldermen who picked off incumbents in this year’s city elections are set to run for committee.

Nick Sposato won an upset victory to become 36th Ward alderman. Now he aims to follow that up by running for committeeman. Longtime Committeeman Bill Banks would rather turn the reins over to attorney Larry Andolino, a cousin of city Aviation Commissioner Rosemary Andolino.

“I’m surrounded by Oak Park, Elmwood Park, and Norridge so there’s not much they can do,” Sposato said. But he said he has to shed 8,000 voters and he is hoping they don’t cut his home neighborhood of Galewood, which he describes as “the identity of the ward.”

Ameya Pawar, who knocked off the Old Guard in the 47th Ward, does not plan to run for Democratic committeeman because he says he wants to be alderman to both the Democrats and Republicans in the ward. That means former Ald. Gene Schulter (47th) will have an easier time keeping his committeeman post. He is not expecting his Lincoln Square-based ward to change too much, he said.

“I’ve been through this three times and it’s always a challenge,” Schulter said with a laugh.

Roderick Sawyer beat longtime Ald. Fredrenna Lyle to become alderman of the South Side 6th Ward. He plans to run for committeeman now.

It’s not clear whether Lyle — whom the African-American aldermen including Sawyer have hired to represent their interests in the re-drawing of maps — will run to keep her seat as committeeman.

John Arena, who beat Committeeman and former Ald. Patrick Levar’s (45th) hand-picked choice to get elected alderman, has decided to run for committeeman himself.

“I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder for the next couple years,” Arena said.

Republicans will have their own committeeman races.

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