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Aldermen OK Chicago ward remap by enough votes to avoid referendum

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Chicago voters will not have to choose between rival versions of a new ward map when they go to the polls March 20 — but whether a costly legal challenge can be avoided is still an open question.

Without a vote to spare, the City Council on Thursday approved a new Chicago ward map that includes 13 Hispanic wards and two Hispanic “influence” wards” to reward Hispanics for their 25,218-person population gain in the 2010 U.S. Census.

The new map that endangers roughly a half-dozen incumbents also includes 18 black wards, down from 19 currently, despite a 181,453-person drop in Chicago’s black population.

It takes 41 aldermen to avoid a referendum that could set the stage for a lawsuit.

The final vote was 41 to 8. No votes were cast by Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Michael Zalewski (23rd); Michael Chandler (24th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Nick Sposato (36th); Rey Colon (35th) and John Arena (45th).

“A challenge and a referendum costs money. The city can’t afford $20 million for a lawsuit. Hopefully, this map will avoid that,” said Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell (33rd), who nearly came to blows with Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) at one point during the deliberations.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, acknowledged that Thursday’s vote is no guarantee against a lawsuit.

“Nobody’s certain that wouldn’t happen. People file lawsuits all the time. All we could do is strive to have the largest number of City Council members available so that we would not have a referendum — and that’s what we’ve achieved,” O’Connor said.

Fioretti and Sposato, their political survival threatened, tried to “postpone the inevitable,” as Sposato put it, by exercising the right of any two aldermen to delay consideration of any matter for one meeting.

But Emanuel’s forces used an obscure parliamentary maneuver to prevent the delay — by ruling that matters directly introduced to the City Council can’t be postponed.

They were that determined to put the divisive issue to rest and to prevent the hard-fought deal from unraveling.

“This has been hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of meetings and hundreds and hundreds of times staring at a computer and drawing boundaries. This isn’t a rush. This has taken longer than the Sistine Chapel,” O’Connor said.

When Fioretti was informed of the maneuver, he started yelling at an Emanuel operative.

“When somebody comes with a lawsuit, that may be a count. … Whoever challenges it will probably win under an equal protection count,” said Fioretti, who finds himself living in the newly-drawn 28th Ward because of a bizarre, snake-like configuration that pushed the 2nd Ward as far north as Wrightwood to reunite Lincoln Park.

Sposato — whose ward would go from 32 percent Hispanic to 61.2 percent — blasted his colleagues for using heavy-handed tactics to ram through a map that the public has not seen and was still being tweaked hours before the vote.

“What is their rush? You have three years [until] the next election,” Sposato said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the city is gonna get sued over this and we’re gonna have to be spending money that we don’t have to defend a lawsuit. That’s what I’m mad about.”

The current City Council is comprised of 22 whites, 19 blacks, eight Latinos and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who is of Indian descent.

Hispanic majority wards are at least 60 percent Latino, influence wards 35 percent to 40 percent, and super-majority wards at least 65 percent.

The political version of musical chairs could leave several incumbent aldermen without seats when the music stops.

Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) would be remapped out of her South Side Ward, which would go from majority black to 68.3 percent Hispanic. That would either force her to move and run for re-election in a majority Hispanic ward or stay where she is and challenge fellow incumbent black Ald. Joann Thompson (16th).

Ald. Michael Zalewski’s 23rd ward would go from 54 percent Hispanic to more than 60 percent.

Zalewski remains adamantly opposed to the changes, but he did not join in the failed attempt to put off Thursday’s vote.

“If you’re gonna have your tooth pulled, let’s get it done today and not wait until tomorrow,” he said.

Moments after the odyssey ended, Emanuel hailed the vote as a political “milestone” — but not as important as another one.

“Last night we had a milestone. It was the first time in about a year where the city did not have a single shooting or a single homicide,” the mayor said, as aldermen applauded.

“And while the political boundaries are important, I don’t think there’s a person in this room [who] doesn’t know that what happened last night into the wee hours of the morning was not more important to this city’s future.”

Keywords: remap

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