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Public debate begins over Chicago's ward redistricting

A stand-off over the racial and ethnic makeup of Chicago's City Council got going Monday with a proposal from its Black Caucus. The group proposed new ward boundaries favorable to its 19 members.

The most recent Census data show that Chicago has lost nearly 180,000 African American residents in the past 10 years. That's the equivalent of more than three seats on the City Council.

But the caucus has drawn a ward map that could protect its members.

"The African American community basically lives in certain areas. So they are still concentrated in particular areas where we were able to draw 19 African American wards," said former Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, the group's lawyer.

That's a loss of one majority black ward from the map drawn in 2001, though that seat is no longer represented by an African American alderman. 

"The goals of the black caucus were to maintain the maximum number that the law would permit us of African American representation," said Ald. Howard Brookins, caucus chair.

The release of these draft boundaries sets up a clash between the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus, whose members say there needs to be a substantial increase in the number of majority Hispanic wards.

The Black Caucus map tentatively includes an increase of two wards where Hispanics have a voting-age majority. That's not enough for Ald. Danny Solis, chair of the Hispanic Caucus.

"I have to study it a little bit more, but I don't think it really reflects the population increase of the Hispanic population," Solis said Monday afternoon.

The city's Hispanic population grew by about 25,000 in the past decade. Solis said his caucus will hold public meetings before unveiling its own map.

These proposals are the opening offers in redistricting negotiations. Ten years ago, most aldermen agreed on a compromise, but past redistricting efforts have ended in lengthy legal disputes.

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