A Map to Equality

The City Council’s Black Caucus has hired former Ald. Freddrenna Lyle to ensure this year’s ward remap does not eliminate any of Chicago 20 majority African-American wards, even though the city’s black population has declined by 182,000 in the last 10 years.

The Hispanic Caucus has hired Victor Reyes, former capo of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, to lobby for more Latino-majority wards. Chicago’s Latino community grew by 25,000 in the past decade, even as the city’s overall population shrank.

“There’s been talk of four and talk of six,” Reyes told the Sun-Times, when asked how many new seats Latinos should get. “But, until the numbers get analyzed completely, it’s hard to give any specific numbers.”

It’s going to be difficult for the Council to draw a map with fewer black wards, since black political representation is protected by the Voting Rights Act. But the question of how many black and Hispanic aldermen Chicago should have doesn’t need to be determined by mapmakers. It can be determined by the voters. It already is.

In 2007, Bob Fioretti unseated Madeleine Haithcock as alderman of the 2nd Ward. Fioretti was the first white alderman to win that seat since 1911, and the 2nd was the first ward to switch from a black alderman to a white alderman. It was a significant loss, because the 2nd Ward was the birthplace of black political power in Chicago. Future congressman Oscar DePriest won the aldermanic seat in 1915, beginning a process of black empowerment that culminated in the elections of Harold Washington and Barack Obama. But white condo owners had transformed the South Loop from Skid Row to a neighborhood worthy of a profile in Chicago magazine. Years before the census figures were released, that was a sign that black political power was declining.

At the same time, three Latino-majority wards are represented by white aldermen: the 10th (John Pope), 14th (Edward Burke) and 33rd (Richard Mell). All three were elected when whites dominated the wards. When they retire, they will be succeeded by Latinos.

The reapportionment committee, which is chaired by Ald. Mell, can draw maps with the same number of minority-majority wards. The voters will elect a Council that reflects the city.

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