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Dueling visions for Chicago’s new ward map place Black and Latino aldermen at odds

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, November 23, 2021  |  Article  |  John Byrne

Black aldermen on Monday said they will support a Chicago ward remap that sees them losing one majority African American ward while Latinos pick up one ward, as the two groups try to protect their political power in the once-per-decade redrawing of boundaries.

The Black Caucus unveiled its long-awaited stance, with leaders saying they will push for 17 City Council wards with clear Black majorities. But the group did not draw 50 specific ward lines, only revealing a map showing regions of the city in which they believe the wards can be drawn. It will be up to individual aldermen to draw the lines to get to the numbers.Latinos would get 14 wards, up from their current 13 Hispanic-majority wards but fewer than the 15 the City Council Latino Caucus has said it wants after the U.S. census reported Latinos now outnumber African Americans in Chicago.Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, said the numbers his group supports give Black and Latino candidates better chances to win aldermanic races.“To have a 50% ward is not electable. In some cases the numbers need to be higher,” Ervin said at a news conference at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville.“We believe this number is appropriate, and gives everyone the space needed to move this program forward,” he said.

But just days ago, Black and Latino aldermen sparred over a Latino-designed Chicago remap proposal.

Thursday’s Rules Committee meeting was the first City Council hearing on the map plan the Latino Caucus released last month. Several Black aldermen challenged the plan, which would not only increase the number of Latino wards from 13 to 15 but also lower the number of Black wards from 18 to 16.

Latino Caucus Chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, repeated his argument that his group’s map simply reflects the numbers in the city, and called for other aldermen to work with them to fine-tune the plan so a majority of the council can vote for it.

But Ervin took exception with the way the Latino map redraws several Black ward boundaries.

“How do you justify gutting, essentially, five African American wards, by removing not only African American, but also additional populations to therefore create wards at a detriment to another protected class?” Ervin asked.

“I think I’m disappointed that another protected class would basically go after another protected class in order to create something that only benefited them.”

Burt Odelson, an attorney for the Latino Caucus, countered that the Latino map does not “disassemble wards” but rather “accumulated wards to reflect the population” by strengthening the Black majority in those wards where possible.

The Rules Committee took no vote Thursday, and most of the negotiations are taking place behind the scenes. But that was the first time the tensions that have been building between the different council constituencies were displayed in public.

Aldermen are hoping to agree on a map with 41 votes in favor of it by Dec. 1, which would preclude a group of 10 aldermen from backing another map and thereby triggering a ballot referendum.

Backers of the “People’s Map” that was created by activists following several public meetings introduced their own proposal Monday.

Chaundra Van Dyk, the project manager for Change Illinois, said several aldermen had privately expressed support for the plan. But no council members signed on to sponsor it, putting the group’s ability to find 10 to back it and force a referendum in doubt.

Still, former alderman Dick Simpson said that if voters do get a chance to pick their preferred ward lines for the next decade, he expects they will choose the People’s Map because it keeps neighborhoods within single wards without bizarrely gerrymandered lines, and because Chicagoans got to weigh in throughout the process of crafting it, rather than letting aldermen privately cut up the city to protect their chances of reelection.

The People’s Map includes 15 Black-majority wards and 14 Latino-majority wards.

The Black and Latino caucuses, as well as supporters of the People’s Map, have pledged to create Chicago’s first Asian American-majority ward around Chinatown.