Backroom tensions between Black and Latino aldermen go public as ward map deadline and possible referendum loom

·4 min read
Backroom tensions between Black and Latino aldermen go public as ward map deadline and possible referendum loom

Latino and Black aldermen clashed Monday over the best way to draw the ward boundaries that will help set the racial makeup of Chicago’s City Council for the next decade.

Months of simmering backroom tension burst into public view at a heated council committee meeting over the ward remap, where Latino aldermen said they were being “gaslit” and cut out of the process, and Black aldermen said the Latino Caucus hasn’t worked with the rest of the body to reach compromise.

Aldermen hope to pass a version of the map with at least 41 votes by the end of the day Wednesday in order to forestall the chance for any 10 aldermen to back their own map and force a referendum.

But based on the rhetoric in Monday’s Rules Committee meeting, it could be tough for the body to reach that threshold.

Northwest Side Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, said the Rules Committee has been pushing aldermen toward a version of the map that shortchanges Latino representatives. The Latino caucus brought forward its proposal weeks ago, Ramirez-Rosa pointed out, but said they are now being told other aldermen have already “locked in” their ward boundaries.

Latino aldermen are being told, “‘Now, you get the scraps, and do you want to shoot yourself in the left foot, or do you want to shoot yourself in the right foot?’” Ramirez-Rosa said. “That’s not a transparent process. That’s a process that puts political gerrymandering ahead of the data and ahead of the Voting Rights Act. It’s a process that lands us in a referendum and in court.”

Ald. Michelle Harris, chair of the Rules Committee, said 36 aldermen took part in private meetings Monday to work on “locking in” a version of the map for the committee to present. Latino aldermen were welcome to participate in that.

“I think it’s wrong to characterize it as a process just for a certain group of people,” Harris said.

Latinos want more wards than they currently have in the new map, citing population growth, but Black leaders do not want to give up more than one ward.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said she didn’t know if enough members of the City Council would be able to reach a deal on ward maps, leaving open the possibility that voters will need to choose through the referendum process.

If the City Council doesn’t pass a map before Thursday, then any 10 aldermen could proactively put forward their own plan and it would go to the ballot, where Chicago voters would pick the map for the next decade.

If a majority of aldermen that’s fewer than 41 vote for a single map before Thursday, any 10 can respond by backing their own plan and trigger a referendum with competing maps that way.

But aldermen also could continue negotiating. Following the 2010 U.S. Census, the council didn’t pass a new ward map in response to the census numbers for the city until January 2012.

Asked about the transparency of the process, Lightfoot said the remapping process is “led by City Council” but she’s been clear that they’ll have to “deal with the consequences” if they approve something without more public transparency.

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“My hope is they will reach some kind of consensus that allows for the map to be seen by the public, have the public have an opportunity to weigh in on, and then an up or down vote by the members of the body,” Lightfoot said.

During Monday’s committee meeting, however, Harris said “once we send (the map) out, and we send it to the public, I don’t know how much wiggle room we’ll have in changing our document before Wednesday.”

The Latino Caucus unveiled its map last month, with 16 Black wards and 15 Latino wards. Black Caucus members last week said they would support a map with 17 Black wards and 14 Latino wards, but would leave it to their council colleagues to draw the specific boundaries to reach those numbers on the 50-member council.

The Black and Latino caucuses have both pledged to create Chicago’s first Asian American-majority ward around Chinatown.

Lightfoot also acknowledged that she spent “several hours” talking with aldermen to try and broker a deal over the weekend.

Lightfoot said she doesn’t know if the council will be able to reach a deal, saying it’s “up to them.”

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