Do you feel like you dodged a bullet? If you live on the North Side and between the river and the Lake, you probably did because you have a new, relatively compact ward that follows most neighborhood boundaries. But elsewhere, just about every other ward in town got horribly gerrymandered by yesterday’s City Council remap.
It happened because politics is about pressure. Unlike Congressional maps, which are decided by state legislatures, or state legislative maps which are negotiated through a two-party system, the Chicago remap process was decided by a one-party City Council that dealt with no external pressures.
If you thought for one moment that the public had any ability to put pressure on the process, consider the maps presented at last week’s remap field hearings, and then the one actually voted on by City Council yesterday morning. Sure they look similar, but the devil is in the details, isn’t it?
The one most bedeviled by those details, and the poster boy for Chicago’s horribly gerrymandered map is 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti. His old ward used to stretch from the Near West Side to the South Loop. Now, from a political perspective, his new ward is a collection of some of Chicago’s most annoying North Side rich people: The Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. As a former Chicago political worker, I can tell you that these voters are the most difficult to satisfy and always trouble for a politician. What did Fioretti do to deserve this fate?
Here’s what I remember from my political past: In 2007 I helped run then-Ald. Madeline Haithcock’s losing reelection campaign, where Fioretti won in a runoff election. It was a brutal campaign, largely because the 2nd Ward was transforming from a poor majority African-American ward filled with housing projects once represented by former Black Panther Bobby Rush, to a wealthier, integrated community crammed with new loft condos. And, it should be noted, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley lived in the ward.
The Black Caucus never forgave Fioretti for defeating Haithcock, in what was the first ward in Chicago to have an African-American alderman. And I don’t think Daley ever forgave Fioretti for defeating his home alderman. And then, before he withdrew due to a bout with with throat cancer, Fioretti was a candidate for Mayor last winter against Rahm Emanuel. It’s like he won a enemy trifecta.
So that’s the inside story. But now that you know the probable reasons, does any of them justify the grotesque district Fioretti has been forced into?
The reality is that the vast majority of aldermen did not see the complete map until 9:30 a.m. yesterday morning–less than two hours before they were to vote on it in the full City Council. And, it should be noted: With no time for public comment.
With so little information and no opportunity to caucus or talk to voters, aldermen did what aldermen do: they looked after their own.
Last night, reflecting on the process, 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar had the rare courage to speak frankly. “What sense does it make to be public about every aspect about this? Politics is about relationships. What I’ve been doing is cultivating relationships from day one. And I think this map reflects that.”
Good for him. He saved his own neck and in the process probably helped out his ward. But we’re supposed to expect our aldermen to think on city-wide basis, aren’t we?
Yes, we are. And because of their self-centered thinking, this remap process became a joke on us, the voters.
We’re supposed to be in a new era of Chicago politics. If we’re still divvying up wards this way in 2021, then we deserve what we get.