When in doubt, remap them out

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The remapping process is a delicate balancing act. Chicago aldermen tweak ward boundaries every decade based on new Census figures to ensure each ward has roughly the same number of eligible voters and that racial minority groups have the voting strength

The remapping process is a delicate balancing act. Chicago aldermen tweak ward boundaries every decade based on new Census figures to ensure each ward has roughly the same number of eligible voters and that racial minority groups have the voting strength to elect representatives of their choice.

However, Chicago aldermen also set the boundaries to protect their political interests.

Earlier this year, aldermen approved a new legislative map that scrambled the boundaries of the city’s 50 wards and, in several cases, remapped their political opponents into new wards. In all, nearly 70 individuals who filed to run for an aldermanic seat in 2011 have since been remapped into new wards, an analysis by the Better Government Association found.

In some cases, the new ward boundaries also exclude areas where those political opponents fared well in last year’s aldermanic elections, according to the BGA review.

In the 17th Ward, David Moore started his campaign late, raised a meager $12,000 and knocked on doors to reach voters since he couldn’t afford slick campaign mailers. On the other hand, Ald. Latasha Thomas received nearly $170,000 in contributions and in-kind donations from political and business heavyweights including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and property management mogul Elzie Higginbottom.

Still, Moore came up just 322 votes shy of unseating Thomas in the April 2011 runoff election. (That runoff election involved ward races in which no single candidate in the February 2011 municipal election garnered more than 50 percent of the vote. The two highest vote-getters in the municipal election faced each other in the runoff.)

Moore is now a resident of the 6th Ward. The 17th Ward’s new boundaries now snake around the 7700 block of South Union where Moore lives.

Encouraged by his competitive showing, Moore vows to try again. He’s even willing to relocate in order to challenge Thomas in 2015. “I’m not married to my house. I’m married to my community,” he said.

But Jim Allen, spokesman for the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago, says Moore doesn’t have to move right away. He and other political hopefuls who’ve been remapped out of their wards can still seek office in their old wards in 2015. After that, however, they’d have to move if they wanted to run again in 2019.

While Moore promises to be back for another run in the 17th Ward, many of his supporters will not return. In addition to Moore’s block, the new ward map relocates some or all of 23 precincts from the eastern edge of the 17th Ward to the 6th Ward. In the runoff, Moore won 14 of those 23 precincts and captured nearly 54 percent of the votes there. Thomas won 55 percent of the vote in other parts of the old ward, the vast majority of which remain in the new 17th Ward.

The remapping process was spearheaded by some of the more clout-heavy aldermen, including Dick Mell (33rd) and Patrick O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader.

So did Thomas have a hand in crafting the new map to purposely ace Moore out in an attempt to diffuse his support and dissuade a future run for her job?

Moore said he’s “absolutely” convinced of it. Thomas wouldn’t comment, but one of her aides said Thomas had nothing to do with carving Moore and his supporters from the new map.

Either way, the ability to eliminate the base of political opposition is the real power aldermen wield in the remapping process, says Kyle Hillman, a Democratic political consultant and blogger who often writes about Chicago politics. An alderman remapping political opponents out of his or her ward amounts to nothing more than a nuisance for the challenger, says Hillman. “But, if you take away his base, he’s done.”

Other political challengers affected by the remap include Raymond Lopez, who captured just 23 percent of the vote in his 2011 runoff with 15th Ward Ald. Toni Foulkes. He then challenged Foulkes for Democratic ward committeeman and got a boost when Foulkes, facing two objections to her candidacy, withdrew from the race in early January. Lopez went on to win the seat in the March 2012 election, but he’s now a resident of the 23rd Ward, thanks to the remap.

The 15th Ward is dramatically different under the new map. Only the eastern edge of the old 15th Ward, near Foulkes’ residence, remains. The western half of the old ward, which included Lopez’s home and six precincts where he beat Foulkes in the runoff, have been remapped out.

Lopez wasn’t ready to point a finger at Foulkes for the map alterations, saying he’s more concerned about serving constituents as committeeman. Foulkes didn’t return calls.

In the 18th Ward, Ald. Lola Lane narrowly escaped a runoff last year, but her two closest challengers in the February municipal election – Chuks Onyezia and Joseph C. Ziegler Jr. – are now residents of the 21st Ward. They both live on the eastern edge of the old 18th Ward – an area that has been mapped out. It’s also an area where Lane received less than 50 percent of the vote in the February 2011 election.

In the 28th Ward, Carmelita Wiley-Earls vows to oppose Ald. Jason Ervin in 2015 after ballot objections thwarted her attempts to oppose Ervin for alderman in 2011 and ward committeeman this year. After the remap, she now finds herself a resident of the 29th Ward just one block outside of her old ward.

Ervin said he’s not afraid of a political battle with Wiley-Earls and didn’t draw the new boundaries to exclude her. “I’ve got a pretty good relationship with her block club,” Ervin said. “I think I could get more votes off that block than she could.”

Wiley-Earls doesn’t buy it.

“I’m out of the ward by one block,” she said. “One block to the north is still the 28th Ward. One block to the east is still the 28th Ward. So, I don’t believe it’s coincidental by no means.”

While most of the 69 aldermanic candidates who had their homes mapped out of their wards were challengers, three were incumbents: Robert Fioretti (2nd), Danny Solis (25th) and Rey Colon (35th), records show. Altogether, the 69 candidates ran in 32 wards.

Solis and Colon couldn’t be reached for comment. But Fioretti said the map was constructed more to serve the political interests of Chicago aldermen than the voting interests of the communities they serve. Fioretti, Foulkes and four other aldermen have introduced an ordinance to delay implementation of the new boundaries until after the 2015 election.

Fioretti wouldn’t name names, but said several aldermen discussed drawing the new ward
boundaries to specifically exclude viable opponents. “Almost half of the aldermen were selecting people to cut out of their wards,” Fioretti said.

“The map doesn’t serve the residents and the citizens of Chicago,” he said.

This story was reported and written by The Better Government Association, a nonpartisan nonprofit that teams with Chicago-area media outlets to expose government fraud, waste and corruption. The BGA also trains citizens to monitor government and advocates for good government practices and effective public policy. This story is the first partnership between the BGA and the Chicago Defender in recent years. To share tips and leads with the BGA, call 312-427-8330 or visit www.bettergov.org.

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