Chicago’s Asian American community has launched an all-out bid to create the city’s first Asian-majority ward in the upcoming city remap. With the city’s Asian American population quickly rising, the community may just have a shot at it.
But to achieve their goal—electing one of their own in a ward that would stretch along the south bank of the Chicago River from Chinatown west to Archer Heights—the 11th Ward’s legendary Daley clan may have to cede power for the first time in well over half a century. That’s no sure bet, even with the clan’s power no longer what it was.
Under a plan being pushed by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, a proposed new ward would pick up not only Chinatown and Archer Heights but a portion of McKinley Park and most of Bridgeport, the latter the political base of the family that sired Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors, Richard J. and Richard M. Daley.
The Chinese American advantage would be small, with only 51.4% of residents of Asian background, with the remainder split among Latino, white and Black residents, in that order, according to Grace Chan McKibben, the coalition’s executive director.
When the count is limited only to adult citizens who have the right to vote, the Asian percentage significantly drops, perhaps close to 40%, she said. “It’s not a majority.”
But the shot is good enough that, as a matter of equity, city officials should agree to the change, McKibben concluded.
Chicago’s Asian population has grown significantly faster than that of any other group in recent decades, almost doubling to 189,857 since 1990, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, and adding 45,000 in the past decade alone.
On the North Side that population is more scattered not only geographically but ethnically, divided among those whose family came from Indian, Korea, Japan and other areas. But in the proposed new ward, “99%” of the Asian population is of Chinese ancestry, McKibben said.
Above and beyond that, the closely knit Chinatown area already has proved it can elect one of its own to an ever bigger slot, with Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, winning office in 2007 in a district that is considerably larger than a ward.
Neither current 11th Ward Ald. Patrick Thompson nor the ward’s Democratic committeeman, John Daley, was available for comment. But Thompson’s bargaining leverage may be limited given that he is awaiting trial on federal tax and other charges stemming from the financial collapse of a Bridgeport bank. Thompson, Richard J. Daley’s grandson and Richard M. Daley’s nephew, has pleaded not guilty.
Another independent group, the Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission, also has proposed a map that would create a Chinatown/Bridgeport-area ward that is 51.34% Asian.
The City Council is scheduled to enact a new map later this year. If at least 10 aldermen dissent, they legally can take an alternative map to a citywide referendum.