• Alex Nitkin
    NOV 22, 2021

    Chinatown, Lincoln Yards, Belmont Cragin emerge as flashpoints as remap war intensifies

    Chinatown residents held a rally in Chinatown square on Nov. 12 to demand a majority-Asian American ward in the city's next remap. [Alex Nitkin/The Daily Line]

    Even as the City Council Aldermanic Black Caucus and Latino Caucus drive toward a standoff over their dueling proposals for a new city ward map, the groups have found agreement on at least one point. Leaders of both groups say they’ve submitted proposals to carve out a majority-Asian ward on the city’s Near South Side, bowing to growing calls from Asian American advocacy groups arguing the city’s fastest-growing racial group deserves a louder voice in city government.

    Related: Ward remap debate goes public as Latino and Black caucus leaders trade jabs over boundaries

    But at least one alderman is not on board: the man who represents the area today. 

    Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) has submitted a map to the council’s Committee on Committees and Rules that he says would span his ward across Bridgeport, Chinatown, Armour Square and Canaryville while giving up the pieces of Pilsen he represents today. That would resemble the 11th Ward envisioned by the original draft of the Latino Caucus’ “Coalition Map,” growing its Asian-American plurality but keeping the group under 50 percent of the ward’s population. However, Thompson is also angling to keep the piece of University Village he currently represents.

    “I’m really proud of my representation of the predominantly Chinese community in my area,” Thompson told The Daily Line last week. “I’ve talked to a lot of folks in Chinatown, and they support the proposal I’ve had from the beginning, which is to keep communities together, whatever the numbers end up with percentage-wise.”

    That proposal — whose boundaries Thompson has yet to release — is all but certain to run into a swarm of opposition from Asian American interest groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which has demanded that the City Council draw a Near South Side ward with a clear Asian majority. The group has also called on aldermen to draw a map that maximizes Asian American voting power in areas like West Ridge and Albany Park. 

    Related: Asian American leaders prep legal, political push for City Council representation in next remap

     “The fact of the matter is Asian Americans represent 7 percent of Chicago, we are the fastest-growing racial demographic in our city, our state and our nation, but we are still represented by zero City Council seats,” said Justin Sia, an attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

    “Asian Americans have distinct characteristics — they face issues when it comes to language access, immigration issues,” Sia told The Daily Line on Friday. “These issues translate into specific policy needs. But we’re not able to express our needs, conversations can’t be had in the City Council, without our voice in the room.” 

    In response to pushback from Asian Americans Advancing Justice and allied groups, the Latino Caucus has agreed to amend its proposal by fashioning an Asian American majority into the 11th Ward — likely by shaving off some of the whitest precincts in Bridgeport, according to political consultant Frank Calabrese, who helped draw the map.

    Although the Black Caucus has not gone public with its proposed map, caucus chair Ald. Jason Ervin (28) has confirmed the group also envisions a ward with a clear Asian American majority.  

    Asian Americans Advancing Justice signed onto a draft map proposed in July by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community that would create an Asian American majority in the 11th Ward by extending the ward west into McKinley Park while lopping off Canaryville. 

    Such a proposal would not fly with Thompson, he said. 

    “McKinley Park should stay McKinley Park — I think it’s important to keep communities together, and not divide up communities just to get to a percentage,” Thompson said. “People identify as Bridgeporters — they might be Chinese, they might be Croatian or Irish or Mexican — but they’re Bridgeporters. And we’ve heard over and over again about the importance of keeping neighborhoods together.”

    Sia said he agrees with Thompson that the next ward map should keep communities together.

    “That is literally the whole point of drawing an Asian American-majority ward,” Sia said. “We believe Alderman Thompson is missing a significant point: that Asian Americans have never had an alderman represent the Asian American community in Chicago, in its 200-year history.”

    Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), who served from 2011-19, was the only alderman of Asian descent ever to serve in the council. And he represented a predominantly white ward on the North Side.

    “We also support the idea of keeping communities together, but we come with the very important and needed ask that Asian Americans are represented in the City Council,” he added.

    The City Council is bound under the 1965 Voting Rights Act to design a map that gives minority racial groups adequate representation in the City Council. Thompson said he hopes the landmark civil rights law “will no longer be relevant” by the time aldermen restart the process in 2031 because voters will “be electing people based on the content of the people, not by race.” 

    In one breath we talk about Chicago being segregated, and then every 10 years we segregate by creating boundaries and ward maps separated by one race or the other,” Thompson said. “I disagree — I think it should look at communities and keep neighborhoods together as those neighborhoods evolve and change over time.”

    No matter the outcome of the remap, Chinatown’s days of being cleaved between two wards are likely numbered, as Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) has agreed to surrender his piece of the neighborhood.

    “A majority Asian American ward is essential to give Chicago’s growing Asian population fair representation,” Sigcho-Lopez wrote in a statement Friday. “I continue to be committed to conversations with my City Council colleagues and Asian American community leaders. Collaboration and transparency is the only way we’re going to get a fair map.” 

    Hopkins vs. Waguespack on Lincoln Yards

    One of the most contentious other fronts in this year’s remap war does not have a single resident living in it — yet. 

    Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) was one of nine aldermen who voted against the city’s current ward map, in part because it robbed him of the riverfront Finkl Steel site — a site that even in 2011 was coveted as fertile ground for new development — and dropped it into a new, torturously gerrymandered 2nd Ward. 

    Waguespack told reporters last week that he submitted a map proposal that would allow him to reclaim the site, now slated to be transformed into the Lincoln Yards mega-development during the next decade. The alderman said it “would be appropriate” to shift his upside-down-U-shaped ward east to the river to make it more “compact and contiguous” and bring it closer to its pre-2015 configuration.

    But when he brought that plan to Ald. Brian Hopkins (2), who represents the riverfront area today, he hit a wall.

    “Much of that area years ago was in the 32nd Ward, and he said it would be nice to put it back,” Hopkins said. “And I said no. I got us this far.”

    Hopkins noted that Waguespack was an opponent of the city’s controversial 2019 redevelopment agreement with developer Sterling Bay — a deal Hopkins spearheaded through the City Council. The deal includes up to $1.4 billion in tax-increment financing to pay for public infrastructure upgrades around the 53-acre former industrial site. 

    Related: Lincoln Yards approved 33-14 as aldermen get personal during debate

    “As a Lincoln Yards opponent, it raises the question — then why does he want it? He can’t undo it,” Hopkins said. “He knows that fight is over. So there’s really not much you can do except kind of throw sand in the gears, hold up some permits…what’s the point of that? Frankly it’s petty, and I see no reason to open the door to that.”

    Hopkins said he feels personally obligated to see through the public benefits that Sterling Bay is on the hook to bankroll upfront.

    “Stewardship of that process is still very much on the table, and I didn’t go through that whole fight to pass Lincoln Yards to walk away from it and not ensure that promise is kept,” Hopkins said. “My goal now is not to make sure Sterling Bay gets to build their buildings — my goal is to make sure the three bridges are built, the intersections get rebuilt…the park gets built, the 606 [Bloomingdale Trail] gets extended and the new Metra station gets built.”

    Waguespack retorted that Hopkins’ argument “doesn’t make sense.”

    “I know people were saying [Sterling Bay] didn’t want this, but we don’t let developers draw the map for how the city should end up,” Waguespack said.

    A spokesperson for Sterling Bay declined to comment on Waguespack’s statement — or on the remap process writ large.

    Rematch in the 30th Ward

    The remap has turned up the heat on a simmering dispute between Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) and Jessica Gutierrez, who came dozens of votes shy of unseating Reboyras in 2019 and has vowed to take him on again in 2023.

    Gutierrez last week sent reporters a photo of a map of the 30th Ward she said she had received from “two reliable sources” that would scoop her Belmont Cragin home into a neighboring ward.                                                                  

    In 2019, Alderman Reboyras ran a campaign at nausea stating that I did not live in the 30th ward, which was a lie,” Gutierrez wrote in a statement, “and in preparation for a new campaign, using his power and public office to eliminate the competition for his own political gain he once again prepares to continue a lie he himself created.”

    Asked about the accusation by The Daily Line last week, Reboyras said he would support a map that maintains her home just north of Riis Park as a part of the 30th Ward.

    “She wants to be counted in the Latino map, so my understanding is that she moved into the ward and I'm going to let her run,” Reboyras said. “I think everyone's entitled to run."

    The Latino Caucus “Coalition Map,” on which Reboyras is a co-sponsor, maintains Gutierrez’s home in the 30th Ward. But she said she is still wary of Reboyras seeking to purge the precincts where she performed best in 2019.

    Gutierrez wrote in an email to The Daily Line late Friday that Reboyras’ statement that he will “let her run” shows he “clearly lives in the dark ages.”

    “He is going to ‘allow’ me to run? No woman needs to ask a man permission for anything, unless that man is like [former President Donald] Trump, which clearly Reboyras is,” Gutierrez wrote. “But there is something the sexist Reboyras might like, I sure do like to sweep and clean and that is exactly what I plan on doing, sweeping and cleaning him out of city hall.”

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