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Ward Remap Battle: Blacks, Latinos Left Out of Power Lunch
The cases could prove an embarrassing replay of 1985, when a federal judge found Chicago's last attempt at redistricting racially discriminatory. The following year, the city had to shoulder the expense of drawing a new map and holding special elections
To prove discrimination under the federal Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs this time have to prove that the city could have created more minority wards, show that they are a "politically cohesive" group and demonstrate that whites have voted as a bloc to defeat minority attempts to elect aldermen.
But redistricting in the 1990s is more complicated. The deliberations that led to the current ward map featured a more open process and a map approved overwhelmingly by the voters.
And unlike a decade ago, the 34 activists and independent black and white aldermen who filed two of the suits may not have to prove that minorities are under-represented on the Chicago City Council.
Instead, they must prove that whites are getting more than their fair share.
U.S. Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner spelled out that test last August, when he sent the case back to District Judge Brian Barnett Duff. Appointed in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, Duff had ruled in favor of the city, 24 former or current white aldermen, and black Aldermen Lorraine L. Dixon (8th) and Lemuel Austin Jr. (34th).
Posner, also a Reagan appointee, said the plaintiffs could win if they can prove that the current map gave "whites more over-representation than blacks ... thus magnifying the political power of whites."
But the map would not be racially discriminatory if it is "no more white than necessary to achieve racial equity...," added Posner, a well-known conservative.
The current map gives African Americans clear control of 19 wards, a share equal to their 38.6 percent of the city's population. Whites, who make up 37.9 percent of the population, control 24 wards, or 48 percent of the seats, giving them command of the Council, the plaintiffs charge in two suits, Barnett vs. Daley and Smith vs. Daley.
Latinos are the biggest losers in this numbers game: They are 19.6 percent of the population but control only seven wards, or 14 percent of the Council. In a separate suit also before Duff, Bonilla vs. Daley, Latino activists have asked the court to create an eighth Hispanic ward. In the Bonilla case, Aldermen Thomas Cullerton (38th), Ambrosio Medrano (25th) and Ray Suarez (31st) joined the 26 administration aldermen as defendants.
The Richard M. Daley administration and its aldermanic allies defend the map, saying it increased the number of Latino wards without cutting black representation.
"The March 1992 ward map is fair to all Chicagoans, and there is little likelihood that it will be invalidated by the courts," Daley's office told The Chicago Reporter in a statement. "The mayor has tried hard to move Chicago beyond the politics of race. ... He will continue to do so in the future, and hopes that as a result he will continue to earn the support of all Chicagoans across the city."
Joel T. Pelz, an attorney with Jenner & Block, which is representing the defendant aldermen, added, "When the evidence comes out it will show that [these] cases are frivolous. This map shows that there is affirmative action for minorities."
But the cases would never have gone to court if aldermen had stuck to an agreement on one of several compromise maps proposed in late 1991.
"All that the plaintiffs have ever asked for is equal treatment," said Jeffrey I. Cummings, an attorney with Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, which represents the independent aldermen. "The evidence will show that the persons who drew this map treated the African American and white communities unequally."
Former Corporation Counsel Judson H. Miner is the chief attorney for the independent aldermen.
"It is the most important issue that never came before the City Council," said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th), one of the plaintiffs. "Broadly it is about fair representation for the people of Chicago."
The Reporter obtained copies of maps drafted during compromise negotiations. They show what might have been, revealing how close aldermen came to avoiding another long and expensive legal battle.
While many aldermen were reluctant to comment on the remap litigation, the Reporter gleaned their comments from lengthy court depositions and interviews to help explain why a compromise failed.
"Redistricting is the most political act a legislative body can perform," said Paul Green, a professor of public administration at Governors State University. "There is a lot of self-righteousness. But there is little morality."
Alderman Thomas W. Murphy (18th) recalls the day in September 1991 when he met with chief mapmakers Aldermen Edward M. Burke (14th) and Richard E Mell (33rd) about the status of his Southwest Side ward. At the time, Murphy and South Side Alderman Lawrence S. Bloom (5th) were the only whites representing majority-black wards.
Murphy, who defeated a Daley-backed candidate in 1991, said the aldermen wanted to talk to him about changing the boundaries of his ward. During the 1980s, the Latino population doubled in Burke's ward, and the new 14th was moving westward to accommodate a new, predominantly Latino 12th Ward.
"I think Alderman Burke made a remark about finding another career," Murphy said. "I took it for self-preservation reasons of his own, but I don't remember exactly what he said [that] made me feel that way." As it turned out, Murphy didn't lose his ward. But everyone knew there would have to be more Latino wards.
"At the beginning of this process, we had informal discussions with virtually every member of the City Council," Burke said, "... we discussed the likelihood of some dramatic changes because of the changing population in Chicago."
During the 1980s, the Latino population grew by 112,496, an amount equal to the population of two wards. Before the remap, Latinos controlled four wards and were the largest group in three others.
Burke, Mell and Alderman Patrick M. Huels (11th) eventually agreed that there would be three new Hispanic wards. "Our duty was probably to try and get four Hispanic votes for that map," Mell said. "I think the Hispanic community dictated more what the map was going to look like than any of the other communities."
But the City Council was not nearly as enthusiastic about drawing more black wards, Alderman Ed H. Smith (28th) said. In August 1991, when he heard that the number of black wards might be reduced, he went to talk to Burke.
Burke told him "there was a possibility the 19 wards would be decreased because the black population had decreased," Smith recalled. "I think he said about 100,000 people and my response to that was that ... the white communities also lost about 200,000 people."
The city lost 112,697 African Americans in the 1980s, leaving many wards on the South and West sides underpopulated, according to the 1990 census. The white population decreased by 255,760.
Negotiations intensified after Oct. 28, 1991, when the City Council Committee on Rules approved a map on the votes of 24 white aldermen, Dixon and Austin. Alderman Burton F. Natarus (42nd) and the four Latino aldermen abstained.
The pattern of the negotiations shows administration aldermen moving from a map that somewhat favored blacks to a final version that helped Latinos and preserved white wards. The Reporter looked at voting age population to assess the political effect of the various maps.
The Rules Committee, chaired by Mell, created a map with 21 black wards. But in three of those wards, blacks held such slim voting age majorities that their ability to control the ward was left in doubt: the 1st Ward (51 percent); the 2nd Ward (58 percent); and the 18th Ward (54 percent).
The courts have said that a minority group must be at least 60 percent of the adult population, or 65 percent of the total population, to be an true voting majority.
Whites also had 21 wards under the Rules Committee map, with a good chance of controlling the 18th and the 46th Ward on the north lakefront.
And the map created six predominantly Latino wards by carving one ward from the 30th and 35th and another from the 38th and 41st. A seventh ward-the 26th-was 58 percent Latino.
Latinos had been pushing for eight wards. "We said no, we are not going to negotiate for six," said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who was then 26th Ward alderman. "And then it was seven. But the percentages were kind of lousy."
"It had been uncomfortable for me to have to say to Alderman Burke and the allies of mine in the City Council that this is what we wanted to do, because they wanted me to work with them closer," he said.
An eighth Latino ward would have been carved out of the South Side, cutting directly into the heart of Burke's 14th Ward and Huels' 11th.
During a long night of City Hall negotiations, the Latino aldermen agreed to seven wards, but insisted on stronger voting majorities in those wards.
"We finally made a decision, the four Latino aldermen, ... at about two in the morning we all looked at each other in the bathroom ... and then said let's do a little better," Gutierrez said.
Arturo Juaregui, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, agreed to seven wards if the city held special elections rather than wait for 1995.
"It was something that Arturo and I shook hands on," Huels recalled. "I didn't feel a special election was something that the city would oppose."
The compromise also included 21 predominantly black wards, according to state Sen. Jesus G. Garcia, who was then 22nd Ward alderman.
Days later, Huels went back to negotiating with Smith and several other independent aldermen. "Huels made stipulations to us that we couldn't touch Austin's ward and we couldn't touch Dixon's ward and that the Hispanics would ... draw their map the way they felt it should be drawn," Smith said.
This compromise was similar to the Rules Committee map, but it strengthened the black majorities in the 1st, 2nd and 18th wards, making blacks more electable.
The map boosted the 26th Ward up to 62 percent Latino.
"We left believing that we had an agreement and that everybody was buying into it, and a few days later we found out that that was not the case," Smith said.
Huels said he could not remember such an agreement. Talks collapsed because a "majority of the City Council couldn't agree on a map," he added.
Aldermen Brian Doherty (41st) and Thomas W. Cullerton (38th) both voted for the map in the Rules Committee, even though it would have pitted them against each other.
"All the time there were some discussions about my ward being ... cannibalized," Doherty said. "Thomas and I both thought we could have won that ward."
But Daley killed the deal because he was unwilling to jettison the white ethnic aldermen who stood in the way of additional minority wards, the plaintiffs charge.
"The real reason the compromise didn't work was that they decided they weren't going to give up any more white wards," said Alderman Joe Moore (49th), a lakefront independent.
Cullerton, who died in 1993, was quoted in the Nov. 16, 1991, issue of the Chicago Tribune as saying, "A Cullerton has been in the City Council for about 100 years, and I'm not going to sign a map I can't live with."
The mayor's office said Daley "did not play an active role" in the redistricting and did not "pass judgment" on any of the maps. Daley was kept informed "in general terms," his office said.
Doherty said the Daley administration just couldn't pull the trigger. "You're not going to have someone who has been loyal to you and sacrifice them," said Doherty, the Council's lone Republican. "Who's going to trust you?"
Daley was under fire at the time for his handling of such issues as the third airport, property tax hikes, the Commonwealth Edison Co. contract and police hiring. A Tribune poll in November 1991 showed Daley's popularity sagging.
"Certainly Daley's power base was not as assured as it is now," Moore said. "The administration was not so sure about what the future held for them."
When the talks broke down, the administration aldermen created the Equity Map, which looked a lot like what they had started with: 19 black wards, and a slim majority in the 18th Ward; 23 white wards, including the 46th; and seven Latino wards.
Latino gains under the new map came at the expense of white aldermen: Mark J. Fary in the 12th Ward; Ted Mazola, in the 1st; and Carole Bialczak, who lost a runoff with 35th Ward Alderman Michael A. Wojcik in the new 30th Ward.
The independents responded with the Fair Map, which created 22 black, 21 white and seven Latino wards. The map reconfigured Austin's and Dixon's wards, and angered Latinos by dividing Southeast Side Hispanics into two wards.
Both sides filed petitions to submit their maps to the voters in the March 17, 1992, primary.
Burke said the outcome was inevitable.
"It seems to me that during the process I was told, by whom I don't know, that it would be impossible to create another African American ward and also create an additional Hispanic ward," he said.
Smith asked black aldermen to stay unified to push for additional black wards.
But before the group could meet, Austin, chairman of the Council's Committee on Budget and Government Operations, said he would negotiate separately.
And Dixon said she left the group after seeing proposals that she said would have changed her ward considerably. "I did not agree to make sacrifices at any cost to bring additional representation into the City Council," Dixon said.
While Dixon and Austin were harshly criticized for backing the Rules Committee map, at least one other black alderman might have joined them.
"If they would have drawn my map like I wanted, I would have voted with them. But they didn't do it," said Alderman William M. Beavers (7th).
Black aldermen weren't the only ones watching out for their own interests.
Alderman Ambrosio Medrano (25th) said he used a City Hall mapping computer to "decide what would be better for me in terms of adding and deleting portions of the ward."
"I mean, I know it sounds somewhat self-serving but being a politician, you're always worried about getting re-elected," he said.
Former Alderman Edwin Eisendrath (43rd) said he voted with the administration so that his ward would "get the kind of [city] service it deserves and needs."
Daley's support for the map was decisive, said Eisendrath, who stepped down in 1993 to become Chicago regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While Daley avoided public comment during the redistricting negotiations, his campaign fund loaned $50,000 to the political action committee promoting the Equity Map four days after it was formed on Feb. 22, 1992, campaign records show. Money poured into Punch 300 for Chicago's Future, including $20,000 each from the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Punch 300 raised $257,000 in a little more than a month; Daley's loan was repaid just four days after it was made.
The Fair Map Coalition, chaired by Smith, raised just $22,500. Miner and his law partners gave $8,500, and Jacoby Dickens, chairman of black-owned Seaway National Bank, pitched in with $5,000.
Given the finances, the referendum results were predictable, and racially polarized. The Equity Map received 257,613 votes, to 163,249 for the Fair Map. Nearly 92 percent of whites voted for the Equity Map, according to a Reporter analysis of precinct results. About 82 percent of Latinos voted for the Equity Map.
And 82 percent of blacks voted for the Fair Map, the analysis shows. But in Austin's 34th Ward, the administration map nearly won, getting 4,977 votes to 5,297 for the independent map. In Dixon's 8th Ward, the administration map got 3,299 votes, yet lost by a 2-1 margin.
But only 53 percent of African Americans who voted in the primary voted on the remap question, compared to 70 percent of whites, the analysis shows.
"The white wards put [the referendum] at the top of their palm cards," Preckwinkle said. "We didn't have the resources."
As both sides prepare for trial, the Litigation costs have mounted.
The city paid $3.2 million to outside attorneys and experts between Jan. 15, 1992, and April 18, 1995, city purchasing records show. More than $2.3 million of that went to Jenner & Block, the records show.
The city would not disclose the number of hours spent on the case by Law Department attorneys.
In a separate case, the aldermen are asking that the city reimburse them or stop paying the attorneys' fees of administration aldermen.
At issue is legal services worth more than $500,000, said Henry E. Field, their attorney in that case.
The costs may be just a part of politics in the '90s.
Remap litigation seems unavoidable, according to the mayor's office.
"It is rarely possible to draw a map that fully satisfies each of the many divergent political interests," and the Voting Rights Act is too vague, the statement from the office said.
Should the plaintiffs win, the city would have to pay for their attorneys and for any special elections ordered by the court A special election would cost between $60,000 to $100,000 per ward, a Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman said.
But the chances of either lawsuit inspiring minority voters are small, said Joseph E. Gardner, who challenged Daley in February's Democratic mayoral primary.
Gardner, a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, said he raised the remap case in his campaign but found the reaction disappointing.
"It's not the kind of thing the average Joe Blow would get interested in," said Gardner, who was a plaintiff in the 1985 case. "There are a lot of issues competing for people's attention and then you have this mundane court case-mundane to the people on the outside."
Interns Carina Carlstrom and Nicolette McDavid provided research assistance for this article.