A group of African-American aldermen have presented plans for how they would like to see Chicago’s 50 wards redrawn this year in the city’s redistricting process.
The proposal would help the black politicians maximize their political power after a decade that saw 17 percent of Chicago’s African-American population – a sizable chunk of their voter base – leave the city.
The Black Caucus’s map avoids a tense run-off between any two sitting aldermen and willingly reduces the number of black-majority wards from 20 to 19. African-Americans would concede the majority in the 2nd Ward – an area covering parts of downtown and the South and West Loop that has grown increasingly white since 2000.
“There were great attempts to draw 20 wards … However, given the population loss, it was totally impossible,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said at a public forum Sept. 29 at Malcolm X College. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what happened Downtown, on State Street or on the Near West Side to see there’s been some (African-American) population loss.”
The map, commissioned by an out-of-state mapmaker, could see substantial changes as it goes first to the Latino Caucus and finally to the full City Council for a vote in December.
Conceding the 2nd Ward may not be enough, though. According to census numbers, the black population is down more than 180,000 since 10 years ago – a drop equivalent to the population of not one, but three wards. And African-American leaders still need to go head-to-head with the Latino Caucus, whose population has increased by nearly 25,000.
The city is required to reconfigure its districts once per decade when new U.S. Census numbers are released in an effort to keep an equal number of voters – roughly 54,000 – in each ward. As the total number of wards must remain at 50, the result is frequently a political tug-of-war over voter strongholds, donors’ homes and special projects.
Coming to an agreement of the proposed boundaries took months, aldermen said at last week’s public hearing.
“The first part is getting the 19 of us to agree,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the Black Caucus. “There are instances in here where we had relatives, we had strong voting blocks, we had people that supported the aldermen.”
While the West Side has seen its population plummet in the past decade – especially among African-Americans – the proposed changes are relatively modest, with the 24th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards mainly shifting by a matter of blocks in any direction.
Many of the nooks and crannies of the current boundaries – drawn during the last redistricting process of 2000 – have been intentionally removed, aldermen said.
The 24th Ward has seen its total population drop 15 percent since 2000; the population is down 16 percent in the 28th Ward, 12 percent in the 29th and 13 percent in the 37th. The drop among African-Americans is even greater: Eighteen percent of blacks left the 28th Ward in the past decade, and 24 percent left the 37th.
Some residents at the meeting complained that despite a public campaign urging minority groups to return census forms, African-Americans were undercounted in 2010. The result is losing valuable representation and tax dollars.
South Side Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) said she knows her ward’s census numbers are incorrect because the count on her garbage pick-up lists is far higher.
“I am very clear that the number of people they say I lost is not correct,” Thomas said. “I’m pushing (to pick up African-American voters) west, north, south. I’m pushing to pick up those numbers when I’m clear at least half of these people are still in the ward.”