New Chicago Wards Map: Not Representative of Community Interests
After much debate 41 Chicago aldermen finally agreed, with discomfort and reluctance, on ward boundaries that will compose the new Chicago ward map until 2021. This process is of much importance since it defines the political future of a given area — which communities will be represented and who will fight to represent them. It also helps to strengthen communities as it draws political boundaries that will insure a community’s needs are addressed, or in some cases, these boundaries help to further disenfranchise a community from representation and access to resources, as was and continues to be the case in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
In Chicago, the debate was centered around race. Black and Latino alderman fought to preserve or gain representation in City Council. In an ideal Chicago, redistricting would have been an opportunity to draw wards that gave communities the power to elect an alderman/alderwoman of their liking regardless of race. Instead, the debate seemed to look much more at the opportunity to have X number of Latino aldermen/women and X number of Black aldermen/women elected without touching wards represented by veteran aldermen. Since redistricting is a legislative issue aldermen/women were able to designate which people they wanted to continue to represent and which people they no longer had an interest in serving. When looking closer at the map it seems that areas with high household incomes, high potential for economic development (industrial/business areas), and low in crime seemed to be a higher priority in alderman’s agendas than the idea of “fair representation” and looking after the best interest of minority communities. In fact, the idea of what they called “fair representation” seemed to be hinged on the premise that people will always vote for candidates of their same race, which leads to fair representation in politics. Yet, this is not always the case.
A closer analysis of the new Chicago ward map and the process behind it, demonstrates that this map does not represent the best interest of the people of Chicago — nor does it reflect the feedback given by residents that will be deeply affected by the ward changes. Actually, the map does reflect some feedback but only of specific communities with strong ties to high levels of power in city government. This was loud and clear during the public hearing at DePaul University, which was largely attended by Lincoln Park Residents, who feared that Lincoln Park would be split in the new map. The larger question became why is it not ok to split Lincoln Park but it is ok to continue to split up Back of the Yards? Why does the 19th ward get to keep their alderman but the 36th ward gets ignored? Why does the 20th ward get to stay on the South side considering the fact that in total North side wards are overpopulated with 33,682 people while South side wards lack 35,021 people?
In the case of the Back of the Yards, there is no sound explanation as to how parts of the community that had been kept together under earlier versions of the Map for a Better Chicago were abruptly seceded to the 20th ward from the 15th ward. These and other similar actions caused an extreme sense of disappointment from residents on the elected representatives of Back of the Yards, considering the community had been very vocal about the need to unite Back of the Yards. The decision to rob the 15th Ward of a chunk of blocks south of 47th street along Ashland Avenue, which is conveniently a major commercial strip and TIF area of the community, was taken even while the 15th ward is one of the three least populated wards in the entire city. The new 15th ward has a population of 51,501 people which makes it 2,411 people under the target population of 53,912 per ward. The 20th ward is also under populated with 52,372 people meaning it is 1,540 populated under the target population. However, why is it that population to fill the 20th ward had to be take from the Back of the Yards are? If population was needed, why not take it from the neighboring 4th ward which is over the target population by 677 people? Could it have been that detrimental for the 20th ward to lose some of the 2,382 people it took from the Back of the Yards population west of Ashland? After all, it could have spared to let go of a little less than half of that population and not go under the limit standard deviation that aldermen/women had self-imposed. However, this was a decision, like many, that was not consulted with the community much less allowed for the public to voice their opinion after it had been taken.
Ward redistricting in Chicago had less to do with race than it did with money and power dynamics. In the end, Latinos are still underrepresented since only 10 of the new “Latino majority” wards have a legitimated majority of Latino population above 60%. Pilsen’s own 25th Ward barely made it above 50%. This year’s redistricting process demonstrated that in “the city that works”, it is business as usual, and special interests groups outweigh the interests of working families and communities. Hopefully, residents noticed the disregard and contempt with which they were treated during this process and they remember that the next time elections come around – that is after double checking which ward they belong to.
Posted in Politics and Legislation