Separate but not equal

By Vanessa Morton

After months of planning, private meetings and public hearings on the current re-districting process, a new ward map has been approved, determining where the city’s political boundaries will be placed.

In order to reflect population changes recorded in the U.S. census, the process of redrawing district boundary lines of the city’s 50 wards is required every 10 years.

The final proposal came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for a special City Council meeting Jan. 19. A new map was presented to the city’s aldermen and a vote was taken in an effort to avoid a spring referendum and possible lawsuits that would ultimately cost city taxpayers money.

However, the swift meeting left no room for the public to see the map before it was approved.

Whitney Woodward, policy associate for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the way the map was handled was rushed and disappointing. She said the lack of transparency creates a barrier between the people and city government.

“In the past, at the state level and at the city level, redistricting has kind of been a closed door affair,” Woodward said. “There hasn’t been much transparency or public engagement by the elected officials who are basically given the task of redrawing their own district quarters, and what has happened in past decades [is] that this has had the effect of lawmakers choosing their voters instead of the other way around.”

In the end, the final vote was 41-8, the minimum number of votes needed to approve the remap. Members who voted “no” included aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward), Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), Michael Zalewski (23rd Ward), Michael Chandler (24th), Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), Nick Sposato (36th Ward), Rey Colon (35th Ward) and John Arena (45th Ward).

Because of the need to maintain equal and fair representation of minorities, a federal requirement for the redistricting process, the new map includes 13 wards with a Latino majority and two Latino “influenced” wards to reflect the 25,218 person gain in the Latino population during the past 10 years.

However, members of the Black Caucus’ effort to hold on to their 19 seats was unsuccessful as they lost two but maintained the majority of wards.

Alderman Howard Brookins (21st Ward), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, voted “yes” to the new map and said it fulfilled the goal of protecting minority communities. He admitted the map was not ideal for everyone but said it needed to be passed in order to avoid the possibility of losing additional wards.

“It’s not perfect and I wouldn’t say that anybody is particularly ecstatic, but I think it does pretty much protect the goals that we had set out for,” Brookins said. “Some of the communities were upset based on where the lines were drawn and what ward they may now be in, as opposed to the ward that they were in, but it was almost a necessary evil, and the only way to particularly help rectify that situation would have been to lose more African-American wards, which was unacceptable.”

However, Colon, a member of the Latino Caucus, disagreed and said while he was proud of the Latino victory, the map did not provide much more than that. He added that he didn’t agree with having a disproportionate map, which he believes could have been avoided.

“We go into this whole process knowing that no one is going to be 100 percent happy with their map, but I thought the Latino Caucus did a great job with staying focused, taking the high road and really holding firm to being able to get the amount of wards represented in the city that we have,” Colon said. “So in that respect, I think the map succeeds in that area, but one of the things I feel that I have held strong on is making sure that we have a map that could withstand any legal challenge, and I’m not sure that’s the case right now.”

While no referendum can be held against the approved map, lawsuits can still be filed against the city that could nullify the map and cost city taxpayers money, according to Colon. The possibility of legal challenges comes from the deviations found between the North and South sides of Chicago.

The Census has shown that the African-American population has dropped during the last decade by more than 181,000, and the white population has decreased by almost 53,000. Colon said the issue comes from having more aldermen serving on the North Side of the city than the South Side.

“Anybody can sue for the map, which is going to create legal expenses, and I mean, ethnically the [map] is disproportionate,” he said. “You know the state had zero deviation in the statewide map, [so] I would think in a city which is smaller that we could have maps that have a much, [lower] deviation and it’s fair for everybody, not just for some.”

However, Brookins said the map poses no threat and believes it is legally defensible.

“Ten years ago, the deviations were much higher; I think there was a total of 10 percent deviation last time, [and] this year deviations don’t go above 9 percent,” he said. “And the courts have said that under a general rule wards under 10 percent deviation is presumably OK, so I think while it’s a good talking point for people who don’t particularly like the map, I don’t believe that it will be overturned in a court of law.”