Tensions grow over city council remap as caucuses introduce proposals

December 16, 2011

(AP File/M. Spencer Green)
33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell chairs the committee responsible for drawing - and passing - Chicago's new ward map.

Tensions are ripe at Chicago's city hall. Black and Latino aldermen are on opposite sides of an escalating debate over new ward boundaries.

Negotiations to reach a compromise in the once-a-decade redistricting have stalled.

"For two weeks, I have not been home before 9 o'clock at night - from 8 o'clock in the morning," said 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell, who chairs the committee responsible for passing the map. "Trying to sit down and...realize with some of our friends what the actual population dictates."

Despite the hours that Mell has spent huddled in a back room of city hall, there's no deal.

And on Thursday, the Hispanic Caucus chair, 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis formally introduced a ward map with three new Latino majority wards, and two fewer African American wards.

"Now we have a map - that we believe will pass muster, so to speak - a map that represents every ethnic and racial group in the city of Chicago in a fair way," Solis said.

All 8 Latinos along with 8 white aldermen signed on, but no black aldermen did.

Most - if not all - of the Black Caucus will file a map on Friday, according to the caucus chair, 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins. He said the proposal will include 18 majority black wards, one more than is included in the Latino Caucus map.

Brookins said he expects the map to garner signatures from a majority of his colleagues, including Mell, the 14th Ward's Ed Burke and the 40th Ward's Pat O'Connor.

Brookins and Solis both said Thursday they expect negotiations for a consensus to continue. But if one cannot be reached, voters may be asked to choose a map and a costly court challenge could ensue. The threat of increased racial and ethnic tensions is a real one, Brookins said.

"I think that this is potentially Harold Washington's first term all over again," he said, referencing the city's first black mayor and his struggles with a white city council voting bloc.