Chicago aldermen are finally starting to get serious about the process of remapping the city’s 50 wards, with computers crunching data, one public and a ton of private meetings and an independent group preparing to release the second draft of how it would redraw the lines.
But the overall dynamics remain the same: whether aldermen will be able to craft a map that deals with the reality that the city’s Black population is down, while the number of people who are Latino and/or live in the central area is way up.
The only proposed map that’s been publicly released so far has come from the Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission, a citizens group that’s being advise by former 44th Ward Ald. Dick Simpson and others.
The map includes 15 wards with a majority Black population; 15 that are majority Latino; 13 majority white; four that are 40% to 50% white; and one that’s more than 45 percent Asian in the Chinatown area, though short of a majority. That roughly parallels the city’s overall population as per the 2020 census: 31% white, 30% Latino, 29% Black and 7% Asian. The commission’s map includes one brand new ward on the Near Northwest Side to accommodate downtown population growth.
The draft immediately caught strong fire from some groups for placing 17 incumbent aldermen in wards in which they’d have to run against another incumbent to retain their seat. Another complaint: the map splits Lincoln Park from east to west.
The commission’s Chaundra Van Dyk said the group intentionally drew lines that reflected what ordinary voters and not politicians want, which is why the group is calling it “the people’s map.” But as per its previous plan, the group will release a second draft tomorrow reflecting citizen feedback, and a final version by early October.
The commission map will be just a theoretical exercise if at least 41 alderman agree on a map of their own. But if there are at least 10 dissenters who sign onto a different proposal, perhaps the commission’s, the issue will be kicked to voters to decide between competing maps in a referendum.
That hasn’t happened in recent city history. This year could be different, but what the odds are depends on who you talk to.
City Council Black Caucus head Ald. Jason Ervin 28th, said the city still needs the same number of majority-Black wards it has now—18—despite declining African American population. In an interview today he said his cartographers have crafted a map that preserves Black political strength. Ervin declined to release the map, but said he expects something to surface “in the next couple of weeks.”
Ald. Gil Villegas, 36th, chairman of the council’s Latino Caucus, indicated his group had something different in mind. For instance there is “a strong probability” that federal law and citizen pressure will boost the number of Latino-majority wards beyond the current 13, he said. Any increase would have to come from some other group.
Villegas declined to “throw out an arbitrary number” of wards, but noted: “There’s been a big growth in the Latino population. In fact, we’re within 40,000 of being the largest group.”
At a hearing this week, ace election lawyer Mike Kasper told aldermen some variance in population is allowed under federal law. But too much variation could provide fodder for a legal challenge.
The official remap process is headed by Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th, in her position as chairman of the council Rules Committee.
With Chicago’s overall population rising about 2% in the last decade, the median population of a ward will rise, too, to just under 55,000.