PRESS RELEASE: Diverse advocates call for Mayor and Council to end backroom deals, commit funding to community-centered ward remapping in budget

CHICAGO–CHANGE Illinois and diverse community groups and advocates Thursday called for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and aldermen to dedicate funding in next year’s budget for residents to participate meaningfully in Chicago’s ward remapping process.

As the Mayor and aldermen begin debating an array of challenging funding priorities, advocates asked that neighborhood-centered ward remapping be funded rather than the past practice of backroom deals led by Ald. Ed Burke and Ald. Dick Mell that put the interests of incumbent aldermen first. 

Monse Ayala, a Gage Park resident and organizer from Increase the Peace, said it’s time to end the practice of dividing neighborhoods repeatedly. “When neighbors are trying to fix something as simple as a broken street light but can’t seem to get a straight answer from their leadership, that’s a problem. When people are being turned in four different directions because they have four aldermen for one neighborhood, that is a problem,” Ayala said.

Andy Kang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, noted Asian Americans are the city’s fastest growing ethnic group and their voices and views about their communities across the city must be heard. In previous ward remapping, Kang said public hearings were held, but the key conversations and decisions were made privately. “At a time when our nation’s democratic process is facing its greatest challenges and threats, it’s critical for Chicago to lead the way by embracing transparency, accountability, and encouraging more community engagement in the decisions that will impact our lives for the next decade.”

Now more than ever, “equity and inclusion in redrawing our wards is critical. Representation matters. Policies made for us, must be made with us” said Dilara Sayeed, president of the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition. 

Rodney Johnson, president of One Health Englewood and an Englewood resident, noted he lives in one ward and people across the street live in another while some of the aldermen representing Englewood live outside of it. “It’s almost like disenfranchisement by design,” Johnson said. “The community is already suffering enough when you look at the fact that aldermen have to take into account other communities.” 

A community survey of Chicagoans shows more than 200 people want a say in what their wards look like, said CHANGE Illinois Advocacy Director Liliana Scales. A fellow with Chicago United for Equity, Scales is completing a racial equity impact assessment of ward remapping. A scientific statewide survey CHANGE Illinois commissioned earlier this year, found 81 percent of Chicagoans surveyed want independent redistricting. 

“Chicago stands at a precipice right now as we seek to fix the systemic racism that has left people out and held our city back,” said Madeleine Doubek, executive director of CHANGE Illinois. “Ending ward gerrymandering and giving residents their power and voices is critical to this process. We need a map that puts the people first.”

Other organizations at the press event and supporting it include the League of Women Voters of Chicago, Common Cause Illinois, the Chicago Urban League, the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, the Latino Policy Forum, Workers Center for Racial Justice and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Mayor Lightfoot long has expressed support for independent redistricting. As she and aldermen wrestle with next year’s budget, we ask for funding for resident engagement in mapping and hope they all will echo her previous comments on WTTW that, “We can’t afford to keep carving up communities in a way that isn’t fair to them and doesn’t give them fair representation.”

A recording of the full press conference can be viewed here:

Below is a shorter collection of snippets from the press conference.