The decade-long political power struggle sparked by the need to redraw Chicago neighborhood boundaries to accommodate the U.S. census is over — at least for now.
The city council did its part on Monday, voting 43-7 to approve a compromise neighborhood map – even as the leader of the council’s Latino caucus, angered by his new ward boundaries, accused some members of his caucus of to be backstabbing serpents – and one of those members fired back, accusing him of jumping ship.
The new map has 14 predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and preserves 17 African-American neighborhoods, including one with a black plurality. Asian Americans, Chicago’s fastest growing population, now form the majority in a neighborhood for the first time.
For months, the main obstacle to a deal between the black and Latino caucuses has been the demand for a predominantly Hispanic 15th Ward.
After leaving two predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods on the table 10 years ago, Latino caucus chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) didn’t want to settle for less than 15 this time, given Chicago’s Hispanic population grew 5.2% since then.
But in the end, Villegas found himself on the small end of the stick.
If he loses his Democratic primary race for the 3rd congressional district against State Representative Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) and chooses to seek re-election to city council, Villegas will find himself with a narrow contortion of a district that makes the oddly-shaped 2nd Ward looks compact.
How Villegas went from chief to sacrificial lamb, with his parish pressed to shore up Hispanic majorities in the surrounding north side neighborhoods, depends on who you talk to.
Aldus. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) says he sold Villegas before Villegas could do the same to him.
Ramirez-Rosa said Villegas approached him on May 2 and said it was time “to accept reality and compromise” because the unions were prepared to spend $2 million to defeat the map drawn by the Latino Caucus in a referendum on June 28.
“I went into the map room with him on Wednesday, May 4…I said, ‘Gil, I feel like you’ve been threatened with $2 million in negative mail against you where they would attack you. and would make it harder for you to go to Congress and you lost all your will to fight,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
“When you no longer have a captain on the ship and the captain leaves the ship, it is obvious that others and I acted to ensure that we had a compromise that worked for our communities. Felix [Cardona] the next day, publicly announcing that he had changed support… was another event in the chain of events that led to the compromise we had today.
Unsurprisingly, Villegas tells a radically different story.
He says United Working Families, which joined the Chicago Teachers Union in supporting Ramirez for Congress, pressured Ramirez-Rosa and his fellow socialists to make a deal and “sell out” Villegas.
“Following that, Carlos walked in without the Latino Caucus lawyer and made his deal. If there’s anyone trying to make a deal behind anyone’s back, it’s unfortunately Ald. Ramirez Rosa,” Villegas said.
Villegas said it suited the new, long, narrow 36th Ward that looks like a snake.
“You had some of my colleagues who were, I guess, snake self-portraits drawing a snake to commemorate the stabbings in the back that took place,” he said.
“It’s all politics. United Working Families supports my opponent. Just like Rossana Rodriguez, Dan LaSpata and all socialists. As a result, because of my run for Congress, what you’re seeing is they’re selling out the community in order to put politics before people.
Regardless of how the compromise was struck, the city council-approved neighborhood map is vulnerable to a legal challenge, according to Frank Calabrese, the veteran cartographer who drew the boundaries of the Latino caucus.
The weakness lies primarily in the snake-like configuration of the 36th Ward and the “10% gap” between African-American neighborhoods and Latino neighborhoods on the north side, Calabrese said.
“You have to draw compact neighborhoods. The 36th Ward goes from almost downtown to almost O’Hare,” Calabrese said.
“We think it’s funny. But imagine actually living in this room. … It just doesn’t make sense. There is absolutely no community. Your neighborhood is like a city block. It is impossible to be truly an effective alderman. At least the 2nd district, which is currently a lousy district, is somehow based in a general area. The 36th arrondissement… is like a city block in many areas. How can you be someone’s alderman when everything around it is in a different neighborhood? »
Although the compromise map now includes 14 predominantly Latino neighborhoods, Calabrese warned that the future for Hispanic political empowerment is bleak.
“If you use raw Latino numbers, there are 14. But, if you count the voting age citizen population, which is the ward vote share, there are only 10 wards that exceed 50%. There are 10 now. So even though the Latin American population has increased, it hasn’t really increased,” Calabrese said.
“Not only are they treading water. They are given neighborhoods that will gentrify much more quickly. … Latinos are leaving Logan Square and young white people are moving in. The same with West Town. … By the 2023 elections, the number of Latin American votes in these two districts may be less than 40%. According to this map, it is very likely that Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Gil Villegas will be the last Latino aldermen of these two districts.