As key players continue to keep their silence, odds appear to be growing that the second version of the proposed new congressional map rolled out by Springfield Democrats over the weekend—the one that would create a second Latino-dominated district—will be pretty close to the final version.
Notable in having absolutely nothing to say so far are three Democratic incumbents who arguably are the most impacted by the map. That’s Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, currently the state’s only Latino congressman; and Marie Newman and Sean Casten, who would be forced to fight it out in a new west/southwest, largely suburban district that would allow the creation of a new Latino-plurality district on the North Side. All declined to comment.
The idea of a second Latino district has been kicked around for years, and often discounted. But a recent, successful lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund against the new Illinois General Assembly map raised some eyebrows in Springfield, I’m told. So did fights at City Hall over a new ward map, fights that pit Latinos against Blacks.
Given that, I’m told, Springfield Democrats may have felt they needed to do something to satisfy a fast-growing group. It didn’t hurt the cause any that the chairs of both the House and Senate redistricting committees are Latino. In an indication of how important all of that is, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch personally called around over the weekend to inform key parties of the news of the second Latino district.
Casten, who lives in Downers Grove, is now in his second term, and La Grange resident Newman is serving her first. That gives them limited clout in Springfield, where the actual decisions are being made. Beyond that, neither may want to be seen as anti-Latino. Of course, forcing them into a cage match in next year’s election sends a message to suburban Democrats who elected them that they don’t count. But as one key player puts it privately, key powers in Springfield “don’t care.”
Chicagoan Garcia, if he chooses, might make a difference. His 4th District predecessor, ex-Rep. Luis Gutierrez, loudly went public 10 years in opposing a second Latino district on grounds that it would dilute the Latino vote and make him vulnerable to a challenge.
The same argument could be made today, even if the Chicago area’s Latino population continues to grow. But unless Garcia decides to drive that issue, the second Latino district is likely here to stay.
Things could again change at the last minute. But overall, the second version of the map, unlike the first, is more favorable to Democrats, a top priority of the party nationally.
I’d look for some tweaks, perhaps to the Newman/Underwood district, perhaps in the western suburbs, where Democratic Rep. Bill Foster’s district isn’t nearly as favorable for him as he’d like.
But that could be it. Which means the race is on to fill that incumbent-less, new North Side Latino district.
I’m hearing a lot of chatter today about Ald. Gil Villegas, 36th, chair of the City Council Latino Caucus. He has told reporters he’s potentially interested. So has state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, chairman of the state Senate Redistricting Committee. Progressive Latinos also may field someone, perhaps Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th. And don’t discount a strong non-Latino candidate if the field of Hispanics becomes too crowded
First, though, they have to pass a map. That’s scheduled to occur in the General Assembly later this week.
2:30 P.M. UPDATE: Villegas is more than interested.
“I’m seriously looking at it,” he told me in a phone conversation, and he quite possibly will make his move, unless the map outlines are changed at the last minute.
There is no reason for that to occur, he continued. “Had it not been for the growth of Latino population in the past decade, Illinois would have been at risk of losing two congressional seats.”
Villegas’ departure from the City Council might bring a smile to the face of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. After serving as her City Council floor leader, Villegas has turned into an increasingly sharp critic.
Lightfoot might break out in a total grin if another critic, Ramirez-Rosa, would give up his City Council career, too, to run for Congress.