The deadline for a new Chicago ward map is here, but aldermen may not have the votes

Chicago City Council
Members of the the Chicago City Council convene at City Hall, Wednesday morning, April 21, 2021. Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool
Chicago City Council
Members of the the Chicago City Council convene at City Hall, Wednesday morning, April 21, 2021. Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool

The deadline for a new Chicago ward map is here, but aldermen may not have the votes

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With T-minus 18 hours to the deadline (depending on when you’re reading this story), Chicago aldermen seem unlikely to reach a consensus on a map that reflects new 2020 census data by midnight Wednesday, a deadline codified in state statute.

That’s after a chaotic week-and-a-half of canceled or contentious meetings of the council’s Committee on Committees and Rules, which leads the remap process, as the council’s Black and Latino Caucuses remain at loggerheads over the future of political power in the city.

“I think that there’s a realization, that at this point in time, there’s not 41 votes for what has been proposed,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, after the abrupt cancellation Tuesday of a committee meeting where a map was expected to be presented. “I think it’s also very difficult to judge the map [because] no one has seen it.”

Aldermen have been working to pass a new map by 41 votes before midnight on Dec.1. If they miss the deadline, they can keep negotiating. But, state law also allows for any 10 aldermen to petition for a referendum instead, in which voters would decide on any competing proposals the city council has presented.

At issue is how to best draw Chicago’s ward boundaries based on data that show Chicago’s Latino population grew by 5% since 2010, amidst a nearly 10% drop among the African American population.

That has fueled long standing tensions between Black and Latino aldermen — a fight that has become quite public over the past few weeks — with the Black Caucus vowing to only give up one of its 18 majority-Black wards, and the Latino Caucus vowing to increase majority-Latino wards by at least two.

Chicago aldermen are tasked with redrawing the city’s ward boundaries every 10 years to account for shifts in the population. Each ward has to be compact, contiguous and roughly the same population size — which means about 55,000 people to each of Chicago’s 50 wards. Aldermen are not allowed to increase the total number of wards — so increasing majority wards in one community often means taking from another.

Overall, Chicago’s population is 31.4% white, 29.8% Latino, 28.7% Black and 6.9% Asian.

Ramirez-Rosa, and others from the Latino Caucus, said they hope this week’s canceled meeting, and a potential delay in a remap vote, means those leading the process are opting to negotiate with the Latino caucus.

In October, the Latino Caucus published its own proposal that would increase the number of majority-Latino wards in the city by two, and cut the number of majority-Black wards by the same number — a proposal the Black Caucus deemed a “non-starter.”

The Latino Caucus’ move to produce its own map well ahead of the deadline drew ire from the rules committee, and members of the Black Caucus who have been working in the so-called “map room,” who’ve accused the Latino Caucus of failing to negotiate.

As the deadline approaches, Chicagoans and many of their representatives have not yet seen a formal proposal from the rules committee. But there’s still room Wednesday for a mapping Hail Mary — aldermen could take up a map proposal at a council meeting on the books for Wednesday afternoon.

But even some council members who’ve been involved in the traditional “map room” process with the rules committee are skeptical of that tight turnaround, as the rules committee has not yet made public — to Chicagoans or to some aldermen — a citywide map proposal.

“It’s difficult to think that we might see a map tomorrow, and be asked to vote on a map tomorrow without having had time for that map to be socialized with our broader community,” said Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has urged council members to make the process transparent, left for Washington D.C. on Tuesday, meaning she will not be present to preside over a possible council meeting Wednesday.

In response to questions about her thinking behind leaving Chicago during the height of remap negotiations, the mayor’s office said the trip was pre-planned, and reiterated calls for an inclusive process.

“The mayor has stated numerous times that the remapping process requires transparency and has encouraged public involvement. The mayor urged City Council to work together to reach a compromise,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government for WBEZ. Follow her @MariahWoelfel.