Tensions flaring over Chicago ward remap

December 8, 2011 (CHICAGO)

A shift in the city's population could be pitting African-American, Latino and white aldermen against each other.

It is a backroom process that is hard to get comment on, with most players involved saying that an agreement will be reached, but with the 2010 census showing a rise in Chicago's Hispanic population and a downturn in the number of African-Americans living in the city, the legally-mandated effort to provide Chicago's Hispanic communities with more aldermen means less representation for others.

Bridgeport, home to mayors and the Irish political machine that was so pronounced in the last century, could get carved up as part of a new ward map on the table at City Hall.

Thursday afternoon, 22nd Ward alderman Ricardo Munoz, a leader in the Hispanic community who is also running for clerk of Cook County Circuit Court -- said it is important to get the new map right.

"[Negotiations] have gotten pretty tense in the last ten days, but the bottom line here is we're talking about people's future. We're talking about geography that we're going to represent for the next ten years, so people can get pretty testy," said Munoz.

33rd Ward alderman and Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell has held a series of meetings with aldermen to outline plans that would raise majority-Hispanic wards three seats to 13 wards, decrease African-American wards by one to 18 and keep the rest white. One of those seats is represented by Asian-American Ameya Pawar.

"For Latinos, it's real easy: If we're one-third of the city, why are we only one-fifth of the city council? Said Munoz.

In all but one decade over the last 50 years, the redistricting process has ended up spawning a costly referendum for the city followed by legal battles. Only after the 2000 census did that not happen.

"African-Americans were gaining, not losing, that was one big dynamic and Latinos didn't yet have sufficient political power to completely flex their political muscles," said University of Illinois-Chicago Political Science Professor Dick Simpson.

At least one of Mell's meetings earlier this week devolved into a shouting match. 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin denounced the 73-year old council veteran, saying he was acting as if black aldermen were "plantation n-word."

"Racial power is still important in Chicago. We are the most segregated city in North America. 82 percent of the people would have to move out of their neighborhood into another neighborhood to have a racial mix that was equal to the city's overall mix or the metropolitan region," said Simpson.

ABC7 reached out to several African-American aldermen and other leaders, including Alderman Mell's office, but did not have calls or text messages returned.

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