• Erin Hegarty
    APR 12, 2022

    Amid remap deadlock, aldermen compete to overhaul process ahead of next decade’s redraw

    Supporters of the “People’s Coalition Map” held a news conference at City Hall in February. [Erin Hegarty/The Daily Line]

    Chicago has yet to adopt a new ward map, as it’s tasked with doing every 10 years, but some aldermen are already looking ahead to change the remapping process ahead of the 2030 Census, from adjusting the number of votes needed to pass a map to taking the map drawing out of City Council’s hands completely.

    Ald. Michelle Harris (8) told The Daily Line last week that she plans to look to Springfield to lower the threshold needed to pass a ward map while staving off the possibility of a referendum from 41 votes to 34 votes, or a super-majority. “I’m going to work really hard to go to Springfield to get laws changed” on the number of votes required to pass a ward map, Harris told The Daily Line last week. The alderman clarified she does not plan on trying to change the vote threshold for the current ward remap, but for future remaps. 

    Related: As aldermen wage remap battle through letters, Harris vows to lower vote threshold for future remaps 

    Also last week, supporters of the City Council Latino Caucus-backed “People’s Coalition Map” announced their own package of proposed changes they hope to have in place by the 2030 ward map, including the creation of a “Chicago Redistricting Commission” to remap the city, according to a letter the coalition sent to elected officials including Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker. 

    The coalition, which includes the CHANGE Illinois Action Fund, proposes appointing 13 members from nine regions of the city to the redistricting commission to “gather public comment and prepare an equitable map of Chicago,” according to the letter. Commissioners and their family members would be prohibited from running for public office for 10 years after they serve. 

    Under the proposal, the commission would be required to hold at least 30 public hearings to gather public comment and prepare the new ward map. 

    “As we work through redistricting at the City of Chicago and reflect on the legislative and congressional redistricting process, it’s clear that the purpose of drawing new maps every 10 years has been lost in the politics of it all,” members of the Latino Caucus-aligned coalition wrote in their letter. “We’re at a moment in our democracy when we can bring together leaders from all levels of government to fix this broken system so that it becomes a fair and legally defensible process that uplifts the voice of the voters.” 

    Coalition members wrote in a news release on Friday that “Ald. Harris’ vow to go to Springfield to lower the vote threshold on redistricting is a shocking effort to legalize and legitimize backroom deals that have gerrymandered and segregated Chicago for decades. This plan would condemn Chicagoans to a future of more machine politics and less and less true democracy.” 

    The letter went on to tout the coalition’s proposal to take the remapping process “out of the hands of City Council members to create a truly independent map-making process.” 

    The Sun-Times reported last June that Harris was working in Springfield to lower the vote threshold to pass a new ward map, and Harris confirmed the effort to The Daily Line on Wednesday. Many had accused Lightfoot of trying to lower the vote threshold from 41 to 26.   

    Harris said last week that she “wasn’t trying to move it down to 26” votes to pass a map last June, but “I just think it’s unfair everything else in our government passes by a 26-member vote” but a new ward map needs more than a super-majority to bypass a voter referendum.  

    The City Council can suspend its own rules with approval from two-thirds of City Council members, or 34 votes, Harris noted, saying a new ward map should also be able to pass with approval from 34 of the council’s 50 aldermen.   

    “That would be fair,” Harris said, adding the two-thirds vote is the existing council rule for “big items.” 

    Competing ward map proposals from supporters of the “People’s Coalition Map” and the map drawn under the leadership of Harris, who serves as chair of the council’s Rules Committee, are both set to go to voters in a referendum on the June 28 ballot.  


    Not the first to propose changes to the remap 

    Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) is no stranger to efforts to change the way the city’s ward map is drawn. Hopkins and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) filed a resolution (R2021-1) in January 2021 calling for a hearing on “reforms for [a] transparent and equitable redistricting process” to examine what an independent commission to work on ward remapping could look like. 

    Related: Experts, officials say there’s time to establish independent remap commission but ‘the train is leaving the station’ 

    Hopkins’ and Vasquez’s resolution never made it to a hearing and aldermen have yet to publicly discuss the proposal. 

    Unless the City Council relinquishes its map-drawing authority at the outset by giving a separate commission legislative direction to draw the map, independent groups could end up all competing with each other, Hopkins told The Daily Line in March or 2021. 

    But the prolonged remap process has likely left a bad taste in the mouths of aldermen. 

    Related: Aldermen remain at loggerheads over ward remap as negotiations shift to ‘hot spots’ 

    “I sense from talking to my colleagues that attitudes are so negative [in] this current system,” Hopkins said. “No City Council should ever have to endure this bitter disruptive fight over a remap. It should be delegated to an independent body who would make decisions based on…interests of the city, not an incumbent protection plan.” 

    Getting to work on reforms ahead of the 2030 ward remap should begin now, Hopkins said, adding, “we can take action while people remember what it’s like.” 

    And when it comes to how the tensions in the current remap could affect council relationships in the future, Hopkins said he thinks there is an “imminent threat [of a] hangover effect even after the map has been resolved.” 

    Hopkins said that’s partly due to a “survival mentality that sets in and does not bring out the better angels of our natures.” 

    “It’s going to take a while before the damage is repaired from this very bitter battle,” he said.

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