Chicago Latino aldermen want more City Council seats

The leader of the Chicago City Council’s Latino Caucus said today that four more wards should have Latino supermajorities, an announcement that came as the council nears a deadline for redrawing the city’s wards.

The city should have 14 wards with a Latino population of at least 65 percent, said Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, chairman of the caucus. It also should have two “Latino-influence” wards, with populations that are 35 percent and 55 percent Latino, he added.

That’s based on the 2010 census counts, which showed drops in the city’s African American and white populations, and the U.S. Voting Rights Act, Solis said.

“We think it’s a fair number, and we are going to be presenting a map reflecting that in the next few days,” Solis said. “We could probably try to push for one or two more. This would probably be a safe number we could get without a lot of controversy.”

Ten of the city’s 50 wards had Latino supermajorities when drawn up in 2001. The council now has eight Latino aldermen.

Two current Latino supermajority wards are represented by old guard regular Democrats — the 14th Ward, which is run by Ald. Edward Burke, and the 13th Ward, which is represented by Ald. Marty Quinn and controlled by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Courts have concluded the Voting Rights Act requires that Latinos supermajorities of 65 percent or more are needed to give Latinos, with a lower numbers of qualified voting-age individuals, a fair shot at electing a representative of their choice.

Ward boundaries must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in population as documented by the census. The city must approve a new map by Dec. 1, but aldermen could agree to do it later that month, as they did 10 years ago. “The clock is ticking,” Solis said.

The 2010 census showed that the city’s population dropped by about 200,000 to just under 2.7 million. So each new ward would have about 53,900 people.

The biggest population decline was among African-Americans, whose numbers dropped by about 181,000. Chicago's white population fell by about 53,000.

Meanwhile, the number of Latinos in the city rose by about 25,000, and Chicago's Asian population grew by more than 20,000.

“The numbers now speak louder than ever,” said Ald. Roberto Maldonado, whose 26th Ward was the base that propelled Rep. Luis Gutierrez into Congress many years ago. “This is something that cannot be further legally denied.

“We are relying on the weight of law, and that is what is powering out discussion and our push for 14 wards. In other words, we are very confident that the law is in our side.”

In September, the council’s Black Caucus drew up a proposed map that would eliminate just one of 20 wards that had African-American majorities 10 years ago. That ward is Ald. Robert Fioretti’s 2nd, which already lost its black majority, according to 2010 census figures.

Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, chairman of the Black Caucus, said it’s tough to comment on the Latino Caucus’ goals without first seeing a map. “It’s hard to comment on a wish list, without seeing whether it’s possible or probable,” he said.

“I think the Black Caucus and the Latino Caucus are fundamentally in agreement on the law and the need for more (Latino) representation,” Brookins said. “However, the devil is in the details and that’s what we need to see.”

Solis said the Latino group already has had preliminary discussions with Black Caucus leaders and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has played key roles in previous remap discussions and litigation. “After we put our map together, we’ll send it to them and we’ll see down and talk,” he said.

“It’s a good proposal that we’re taking into the next couple weeks of negotiations,” added Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd. “Just do the math. If we are one-third of the city, why are we one-fifth of the City Council? This is just to reflect actual demographic changes.”

The remap effort is being led by Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, chairman of the Rules Committee that is holding public forums on the issue but has yet to propose a map.

Mell is hoping to get at least 41 aldermen to sign off on a single map, because if ten or more propose an alternate, voters get to choose from among the competing maps in next March’s primary election.