Frustrated Chicagoans accused aldermen of shattering communities to protect their incumbencies at the first public hearing on the city’s ward remap process Wednesday night.
At least 600 people flooded into DePaul University’s Student Center in Lincoln Park, with many forced to wait temporarily outside closed doors due to concerns that attendance would exceed fire code limits. For three hours, scores of city residents hurled criticism at the more than 20 attending aldermen, and the two maps they created.
“This map is unwise for all Chicagoans, because it not only shatters our communities, it fails to accurately reflect the city’s current ethnic and racial balance,” said Daniel Varanauski, President of the Wrightwood Neighbors Association in the 43rd Ward, where the hearing was held.
Varanauski and hundreds of other 43rd Ward residents came to put pressure on council members against the map that appears to be gaining the most traction at City Hall – The Map for a Better Chicago. That map, proposed by the council’s Black Caucus, would carve the 43rd Ward on Chicago’s North Side into five wards.
“If adopted, as Alderman (Michelle) Smith (43rd) suggested, costly litigation would result,” added Varanauski. “Moreover, it is so gerrymandered that ward services could not be delivered effectively.”
The meeting was heavily attended by residents of Chicago’s North Side, who have felt largely cut out of the political jockeying between the city’s two largest minority groups – Hispanics and African-Americans – on the South and West Sides.
“I am an angry citizen tonight. This is a joke of a map,” said 43rd Ward resident Colleen Day, referring to the Map for a Better Chicago. “I will no longer live in my ward. I will live in the 2nd Ward. My daughter will go to school in the 43rd Ward, which is 100 feet from my house. My police station will be in the 44th Ward,” she said. “Who do I go talk to when I have a problem?”
“The Map for a Better Chicago seems to me to be just protecting incumbents instead of reflecting the actual demographics of the City of Chicago,” said Bob Stein of the 43rd Ward. “I don’t understand how this type of old Chicago-style politics, in this day and age, can still be happening.”
Stein and many others said they prefer the map proposed by the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, called the Taxpayer Protection Map. They said that map conforms more closely with existing ward and neighborhood boundaries on the North Side.
At times Alderman Richard Mell (33rd), Chairman of City Council’s Committee on Rules, responded to comments and questions posed directly to the aldermen. “I don’t think any of these colleagues up here would want a change,” said Mell at one point, gesturing to his fellow aldermen seated next to and behind him on the stage. “If they could keep the ward exactly the way they wanted, they’d be very, very happy to do it.”
Mell told one speaker that the Map for a Better Chicago overpopulated North Side Wards and underpopulated South Side wards, thereby weighting individuals’ votes unequally, because it was necessary to get more aldermen to sign onto the plan.
“I can guarantee you that not one person here is thrilled with these maps that are up here right now,” said Mell.
Other aldermen at the hearing included Joe Moreno (1st), Robert Fioretti (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Leslie Hairston (5th), John Pope (10th), James Balcer (11th), George Cardenas (12th), Toni Foulkes (15), JoAnn Thompson (16th), Latasha Thomas (17th), Howard Brookins (21st), Daniel Solis (25th), Walter Burnett (27th), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Rey Colon (35th), Nicholas Sposato (36th), Michelle Smith (43rd), Thomas Tunney (44th), and John Arena (45th).
But with aldermen possibly voting on new boundaries for Chicago’s wards as soon as next week, several speakers said the public hearing felt like a sham.
“Is this a fait accompli?” asked Edwin Marshall, resident of the 43rd Ward. “How many are you taking these statements seriously?,” he asked the aldermen. “Is this an exercise in futility?”
Many asked the aldermen to take more time either to create a new map, or to more fully consider the impact of the two main maps on neighborhoods. The City Council plans to hold three additional public hearings before voting on a map.