Alds. Mell & Burke: The Old Gringos

Even if the Latino community gets the 13 wards it’s asking for on the City Council, it still won’t be fairly represented at City Hall. But 13 wards may be more than it’s capable of obtaining, especially if the black community submits a competing map to a citywide referendum.

According to last year’s Census, Chicago’s Latino population is 28.9 percent. It’s undoubtedly higher than that, because undocumented Latinos are afraid to answer Census questionnaires or open the door to enumerators. So say, conservatively, that Latinos make up 30 percent of the city. That would entitle them to 15 of the 50 wards. But Latinos can’t elect 15 aldermen, because they don’t make up 30 percent of the city’s electorate.

The demographic trends that made them the only major ethnic group to add population in the 2000s -- immigration and a high birth rate -- have not yet ripened into political power. The immigrants have not yet become citizens, and the babies aren’t old enough to vote.

That’s why, if blacks and Latinos put their competing ward maps to a referendum, blacks will probably win. Even though the black population declined by 180,000 during the last decade, it still outnumbers the Latino population. And blacks have a century of experience in organizing their community to vote. Latinos didn’t establish a permanent presence in Chicago politics until the 1970s.

It’s unfortunate that Latinos are fighting with blacks over seats on the Council, because the real obstacles to their rightful influence are old white guys. In three wards -- the 10th, 14th and 33rd -- white aldermen represent Latino majorities. The 14th ward is represented by Edward Burke, the 33rd by Richard Mell, the two most senior members of the City Council. (The 10th Ward is represented by John Pope, who has only been in office since 1999. Pope defeated a Latino challenger in February.) Mell, who chairs the remap committee, shows no inclination to surrender his seat to the rising ethnic group. In fact, it’s been rumored that Mell will resign before his term ends, and ask Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint his daughter, state Rep. Deb Mell, to the City Council.

If Mell really wants to solve this impasse, he should resign and ask the mayor to appoint one of his Latino precinct captains.

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