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Disputes push ward remap closer to a referendum in June 28 Primary

Chicago City Council

Alderman Michelle Harris (8th) as chairman of the Rules Committee abruptly adjourned a hearing on January 6 after Latino and Black aldermen clashed over establishing a new map that would redraw the city’s 50 wards.

It was the first of four public hearings that followed contentious talks that left the City Council without a new map by the December 1, 2021 deadline.

Latino aldermen want 15 wards as they seek to reduce Chicago’s Black wards from 18 to 16 in response to the city’s declining Black population.

The Chicago Black Caucus’ proposal seeks to keep 17 Black wards and 14 Latino wards.

Latino aldermen, who now represent the city’s largest minority population, say they won’t accept anything less than 15 wards for fair representation on the City Council. So far, the Latinos’ proposal is backed by 15 aldermen, while the Black Caucus proposal has 34 aldermen behind it. A proposed remap must get at least 41 votes for City Council approval. If that doesn’t happen, the proposal will become a referendum that will be decided by voters in the June 28 primary.

The possibility of that happening is getting stronger after Black and Latino aldermen renewed their dispute at a public meeting following a long holiday break. Latino aldermen argue that the Black Caucus map improperly divided up their neighborhoods.

Harris, who initially vowed to preserve the city’s Black wards last year, has been reluctant in considering maps that move ward boundaries. But during the January 7 public hearing, Alderman Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward) asked Harris to include two letters they exchanged in recent weeks in the official record of the committee’s proceedings.

In her letter on December 17 to Harris, Tabares proposed several protocols for aldermen to follow in the ward remap room, perhaps in response to the chaotic proceedings that occurred last December, when Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) accused Alderman Jason Ervin (28th) of shutting him out of the room when he learned that a piece of his ward will be absorbed into the predominately Latino 10th Ward.

Tabares’ letter also says that “The Rules Committee shall encourage all aldermen to be flexible and to be willing to move boundaries in the interest of compromise. None of the wards shall be deemed to be ‘locked-in’ in their entirety.”

As Tabares stressed her goal, Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) said Tabares sounded like she was “trying to build a case.” That comment prompted several aldermen to declare him out of order.

During the hearing, Harris refused to discuss the substance of Tabares’ requests and said the subject had not been properly included on the committee’s agenda for discussion and violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

In her letter to Tabares on January 5, Harris said, did not address Alderman Tabares’ proposed protocols in the remap room.

Instead, Harris said the remap room on the second floor is “always open for your engagement.” Harris in her letter also said, “Under my leadership, the remap will remain a civil process based on collaboration and cooperation. Many of our colleagues have gathered for months in the map room to compromise and create a map that reflects Chicago’s diverse communities and moves our city forward.

“We have worked in earnest to develop a map that increases Latino representation, decreases Black wards by one, while still maintaining strong representation in City Hall, and creates an Asian American ward.”

Harris agreed to meet privately with Tabares to discuss the issues but would not agree that aldermen should be “fair and flexible” in their map discussions.

Harris tried to move on during the hearing with a presentation from Rules Committee attorney Mike Kasper on a federal court ruling to uphold the new statewide legislative district maps amid legal challenges by Illinois Republicans, but Latino Caucus Chair Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) objected. He said Kasper’s presentation was not included on the meeting’s agenda and—under the same rule she used for Alderman Tabares—could not move forward. That’s when Alderman Harris abruptly adjourned the meeting.

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