The boundaries of the 2nd Ward, represented by Ald. Robert Fioretti, might undergo drastic changes, at least according to the Chicago City Council ward remap proposed last week by the council’s black caucus.
If the black caucus were to have its way, the 2nd Ward would still be anchored in the South Loop. But it would include more of the Loop and even parts of the North Loop. Meanwhile, ward areas that stretch into Garfield Park and Bronzeville would be chopped off.
In other words, the 2nd Ward would become much whiter so other wards – namely the neighboring 27th, whose alderman is former black caucus leader Walter Burnett – remain majority black.
It’s an effort by the black caucus to stake their claim on City Council power.
“It’s the opening salvo in what is going to be a war,” said Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a former alderman.
The principals in this “war” are the black and Latino caucuses as well as powerful veteran aldermen like Richard Mell (33rd). The ward remap process happens every 10 years after the decennial census and the City Council is supposed to approve a final map in December.
While the final version is likely to be different than the black caucus’ proposed version, according to Simpson, it is also likely that Fioretti – and South Loop residents – will start to inhabit a ward that’s predominantly white, thanks to the area’s recent population increase and gentrification.
The map drawn after the 2000 Census included 20 wards that were majority black, 13 white, 11 Latino and six where no race constituted a majority.
The 2nd Ward population has grown dramatically over the last 10 years and, in the process, has become majority white.
Meanwhile, the city’s overall black population decreased by 182,000, which probably means that fewer than 20 wards in the new map would be majority black.
Given that the 2nd Ward’s demographics have changed so much and that the ward now has a white alderman, the black caucus apparently decided that the 2nd could no longer be majority black.
“He had to lose 15,000 residents,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s black caucus, said of Fioretti. “And we had to put African Americans out of Bob’s ward so we could put them into other areas.”
The caucus has yet to talk with Fioretti about this dramatic remapping where the new 2nd Ward would go from majority black to just 7 percent black.
“We didn’t consult Bob,” Brookins said. “We didn’t speak to anyone outside of our caucus.”
“It’s hard enough to get 19 people to agree on something,” Brookins added, referring to the caucus’s 19 members.
Multiple calls to Fioretti’s office were not returned.
Ultimately, the City Council Rules Committee, chaired by Mell, must approve a map and send it to the full council.
Traditionally, aldermen are concerned about two things in remapping wards – enhancing their own re-election chances and political power, along with following the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act is the “one man, one vote” law that stipulates racial minorities must be fairly represented. The law only protects racial minorities, which means a focus on the racial composition on each ward’s voting-age population.
“The voting rights only recognizes race, and so certain minorities are the protected class of people recognized,” Brookins said.
But Latino voters are another protected group – and the black caucus map is unacceptable to the Latino caucus, headed by Ald. Danny Solis (25th). It adds the number of majority Latino seats by just two to 10, or 20 percent of the City Council. According to the 2010 Census, 29 percent of the city’s population is Latino.
“The Latino caucus will probably demand up to six more wards, which probably means taking three from African Americans and three from whites,” Simpson said.
Solis is currently holding public hearings on the remap and will roll out a remap proposal soon, according to spokeswoman Stacey Raker.
While the black and Latino caucuses are the most closely watched, another group of aldermen has coalesced to protect their interests.
The reform caucus, an ad hoc group lead by Ald. Joe Moore (49th), will propose a map to ensure the representation of self-identified progressives, many of whom were just elected in 2007 and 2011. Fioretti has been previously associated with the City Council’s reform faction.
“We need to unite together to protect our freshmen reformers,” Moore said.