Loss of 180,000 black residents will complicate Chicago ward remap
By FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter July 6, 2011 10:26AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (with Corporation Counsel Steve Patton) confers with Ald. Ed Burke at the Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday July 6, 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: October 20, 2011 12:27AM
Chicago’s loss of 200,000 residents — more than 180,000 of them black — will make the process of crafting a new ward map “as challenging as it’s ever been,” a powerful aldermen warned Wednesday.
With Hispanics demanding more City Council seats and blacks determined to hold on to what they’ve got, the once-in-a-decade political sweepstakes to accommodate the 2010 U.S. Census will get under way Aug. 1.
The City Council’s Finance and Rules Committees plan to hire consultants and set up a war room to begin the process of redrawing the city’s 50 wards, each with a population of 53,000 residents, down from 57,000 a decade ago.
It’s not going to be easy.
“We’re gonna try to, hopefully, keep ’em more compact and coherent [than last time], but you never know,” said Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), the chairman of the City Council Rules Committee. “It’s gonna be challenging — probably as challenging as it’s ever been. And I’ve been through the ’80s, ’90s and . . . this one.”
After the 1990 Census, Chicago taxpayers spent $20 million in legal fees — and tens of thousands more on a costly referendum — only to end up changing just a handful of blocks in the 18th Ward, which resulted in the re-election of then-incumbent Ald. Tom Murphy (18th).
Ten years later, it was the opposite. With only one dissenting vote, the council wrapped up the most tranquil remap process in recent history by approving a “coalition” ward map that protected incumbents, preserved black representation and offered Hispanics a small reward for their impressive population gains.
That map included 20 black wards, 13 white wards, 11 Hispanic wards and six wards with a “majority minority” mix of Hispanics, blacks and Asians: the 11th, 39th, 40th, 46th, 48th and 49th. Only two of the new Hispanic wards — the 14th and 30th — had “super-majorities” of more than 65 percent. Incumbent powerhouse Ald. Edward M. Burke has been unopposed for re-election in the 14th Ward ever since.
This time, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) is demanding at least four and as many as six new Hispanic wards.
“Do the math. If Latinos are one-third of the city, why are they one-fifth of the City Council?” Munoz asked.
The aldermen stood his ground, even after Mell claimed that the Hispanic population is “diffuse’’ or spread throughout the city, mitigating the need for more Hispanic wards.
“So is the white population. We no longer have the days of concentrated neighborhoods. [But] there’s ways of cutting different wards for different purposes. It depends on what the political will is,” Munoz said.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), newly elected chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, is determined to hold the 20 black wards, even after the city lost 180,000 African-American residents over the past decade.
The bottom line is something’s got to give.
“I want everybody to come in here with an open mind and understand that, even though your ward may be statistically almost right, the ward next to you could be statistically way off, which will affect everyone,” Mell said.
“Nobody’s ward is gonna remain exactly the same — except the 33rd,” he joked.
Munoz has questioned why the remap process isn’t already well under way and why Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn’t already given the City Council marching orders.
But Mell insisted that the timing is about the same as it was 10 years ago.
“I remember being here Thanksgiving Day . . . and we didn’t pass [the remap] until, probably, December sometime,” Mell said.