Chicago's Black and Latino leaders clash over redrawing of ward map

·4 min read
Brian Cassella

CHICAGO — A final deadline to approve a new ward map loomed over the Chicago City Council on Wednesday after weeks of bitter clashes between its Black and Latino caucuses over how the city's 50 districts should be represented over the next decade.

Shifts in the city's demographics reflected in the 2020 census spurred an initial push by the Latino caucus to re-carve wards to represent the growing Latino population, which has overtaken the number of Black residents in Chicago.

The Latino population increased by 5 percent from 2010 to 2020 and represents 29.9 percent of the city, while Chicago's Black population dropped by 10 percent and makes up 28.7 percent.

Chicago's 50 wards are represented by aldermen elected to serve four-year terms. They make up the City Council.

Fifteen of the 27 wards that lost population in the census were majority Black, WTTW-TV reported. The Black population loss on the south and the southwest sides has been linked to increasing violence and a lack of resources, among other factors.

The Latino Caucus, whose members represent 13 wards, wants to expand the number to 15 to reflect the growth. But the Black Aldermanic Caucus has been reluctant to cede its hold, with one member suggesting that the census doesn't accurately reflect the Black population.

"I just can't believe that certain communities had that kind of drop in population," Black caucus member Anthony Beale told WTTW. "The manpower wasn't put in the African American community to go door to door."

Based on census data, the Latino caucus presented a proposal for 16 Black and 15 Latino wards, but it was rejected by the Black caucus, which said it would support only a map with 17 Black and 14 Latino wards.

The dispute parallels a fight playing out in court over state redistricting maps, said former Alderman Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

"Latinos are looking for more seats at the table, more power in state and city government," he said.

Approval of a new map will require at least 41 votes. If that isn't reached and if at least 10 aldermen agree on their own map proposal, the issue would be sent to voters in a referendum, which hasn't happened in 30 years. The approved map would be the city's political blueprint for the next 10 years.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has largely stayed on the sidelines. But she did say both sides would "lose" if they were unable to reach an agreement.

"If they throw this to a referendum, anything is possible," she said Monday. "They have to recognize the art of compromise."

The caucuses did agree on one point: adding the first Asian American ward, centered on the Chinatown neighborhood, to reflect the growing Asian population.

Change Illinois, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works on ethics and efficiency in government and elections, submitted an independent proposal called "The People's Map" to the City Council last week after having consulted with over 430 residents who attended more than 40 public hearings.

Under the proposal, which neither Lightfoot nor any of the aldermen backed, there would be 15 majority Black wards, 14 majority Latino wards and one majority Asian American ward.

"The city council has failed utterly to deliver a process that involves community members," Change Illinois wrote Tuesday in an open letter to Lightfoot. "Instead, council members have succumbed to perpetuating the historical backroom deals done in secret that have hurt Chicagoans for decades."

The stalemate came to a head Monday at a City Council meeting when members of both caucuses called one another out for lack of transparency, sexism and "backroom dealings," Block Club Chicago reported.

"You're going to go ahead and pass a map, you're going to go ahead and disenfranchise the Latino community, and it's really disheartening," Latino caucus Chair Gilbert Villegas told members of the Black caucus.

Black caucus member Michelle Harris, who chairs the council's rules committee, fired back.

"I've asked you all to come into this space, and typical male, you all think you can run over me, come in and be part of the process and then want to kick it back on me and talk about it not being transparent," she said.

Simpson, who consulted on "The People's Map," said the issue is likely to go to a referendum.

"When you have a city that's multiracial and multicultural, like Chicago, there will be stress between different groups that are vying for power," he said.