Chicago residents: Get involved in the redrawing of your ward

With huge population and demographics shifts over the last 10 years, the redrawing of Chicago’s 50 wards might be the most interesting – and contentious – redistricting yet.

And that’s why you need to get involved.

Chicago aldermen are starting a public dialogue with voters about the new ward map, which has yet to be drawn but is scheduled to be approved by City Council later this year. Aldermen are seeking input from you, their constituents, about your community and how new boundaries should be drawn to empower voters. (A full list of those meetings already scheduled is below. They were announced Tuesday, Nov. 1 – one day before the first public meeting and eight months after the release of the U.S. Census data on which redistricting is based.)

Just as on the state level, the redrawing of ward boundaries has a profound impact on city government and, by extension, policy – including the budget, schools and policing.

Past redistricting cycles suggest that the “Chicago Way” of redistricting is each incumbent aldermen squabbling behind closed doors for favorable turf in new ward boundaries, such as maintaining their existing political base in the new ward in which they reside, cutting out likely opponents (including other incumbents), and ensuring that they can represent places they care about – be it a grocery store or their cousin’s home.

Of course, this rather unsavory back-and-forth has historically been conducted out of public view, giving no meaningful opportunity for Chicago voters to contribute to the new map.

In coalition with other civil rights and public policy groups who constitute the Illinois Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, ICPR advocated for a transparency resolution mandating the City Council engage with voters during the remapping process.

While we appreciate the support Ald. Richard Mell (33rd Ward) has shown in sponsoring and getting full Council approval, the resolution doesn’t go far enough in ensuring public participation and oversight in the process.

Specifically, the resolution mandates six preliminary hearings on redistricting, but only one public hearing on any map to be voted on by the full City Council. But Chicago is home to about 2.7 million residents! The map that will guide our aldermanic elections for the next 10 years must be thoroughly vetted by voters before it is approved.

The City Council should hold multiple public hearings on draft maps, with at least two weeks’ notice and only after providing ample information about proposed wards, so that residents can provide thoughtful feedback. (We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the resolution also calls for the City Council to create an informational website about the process and provide an explanation of produced maps. We’re looking forward to that.)

In addition, the resolution does not prohibit aldermen from considering political data – such as candidates’ home addresses or precinct voting history – as criteria they use in drafting new wards. Voluntarily committing to not considering those factors would send a clear message to Chicago voters that political interests will not be put above the public’s interest.

Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics
Redistricting 2011 Public Hearings (announced)

Wednesday, Nov. 2
North Park Village, Administration Building, West Community Room
5801 N. Pulaski
6 – 9 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 3
North- Grand High School (Auditorium)
4338 W. Wabansia
6 – 9 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 8
South Shore International College Prep High School (Gym)
1955 E. 75th Street
6 – 9 p.m.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Morgan Park High School (Auditorium)
1744 W. Pryor
6 – 9 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 14
Whitney Young High School (Library)
211 S. Laflin Street
6 – 9 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 17
City Council Chambers
City Hall, 121 North LaSalle, 2nd Floor
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The committee is also accepting comments via e-mail at rmell@cityofchicago.org.