Fixing the Borders
by Peter Zelchenko August 28, 2009

I note this excerpt from the minutes of the Chicago-Grand Neighbors Association president from its August 20 general meeting (italics mine):

...VIII. Ald. Flores' office: Jeanine Otte from Ald. Flores' office discussed city services. Among the topics discussed were: Representation from the 26th ward. ...could Flores help CGNA members stuck in the 26th get better representation and/or services from the new 26th alderman. Jeanine informed us that Ald. Maldonado did reach out to the 1st Ward to learn how to have better community outreach.

Boring, huh? I don't know where you live. But if you live anywhere near this area, you should consider moving right away. It's not that the people aren't nice, and it's not that the place isn't nice, and it's not that the aldermen aren't nice. In fact, I can't think of a nicer place for people, places, and aldermen.

Minutes of meetings appear to be very boring things, best read in a yawning voice, blah, blah, etc., etc. But you know community meetings: if it is written:

Edna McGillicuddy, who arrived in a pleasant flower-print dress and straw bonnet, expressed her mild dissatisfaction several times with the decision of the board to postpone the garden show. "It's been sixty years we've had it in May. I don't see why we need to put it in June," explained Edna.

And you know what really went on there. You know there was a bee under Edna's bonnet, and you know that Edna wasn't mild, and you know that four strapping boys had to be summoned to drag poor Edna, kicking and screaming, back to her veranda and get her a nice, tall lemonade. Because no way was she going to sit still about postponing the garden walk.

That's why I love reading meeting minutes. And CGNA is one of the milder organizations I've had the pleasure of knowing. (Italics mine.)

If you read the CGNA passage carefully, you can sense the frustration in the following:

...could Flores help CGNA members stuck in the 26th get better representation and/or services from the new 26th alderman.

Have a look at this detail of the central part of the city:

Central West-Side Wards

See that darkened area near the middle? Look at how all of the aldermanic borderlines reach in like snakes. Is that normal?

No, it's not at all normal. It's a byproduct of civil rights laws, legislation, and most of all scheming politicians who are afraid of their own shadows. In the old days in New England, they called it a gerrymander after the resemblance of one district to a salamander and the name of the Boston-area politician who created it. Here, we call it A Main Way the Chicago Machine Preserves Itself.

Now have a look at this closeup:

CGNA's Service Area

As you see, the organization's service area is split between two wards. So, anytime someone sneezes, both aldermen need to be involved. Look up just to the northwest of there, and you see what might be called the "Ukrainian Village Hole" which helps exacerbate the problem. Where CGNA is, it's mostly white working-class and Hispanic voters. Just south of there, in the 27th Ward, it's more African-American. Every race is entitled to their own turf, and every 10 years aldermen, state reps, and senators sit down in smoke-filled rooms to decide who gets what part of the pie, or what growing challenger gets sliced out of the district in time for the next election. Soon after, the lines are obsolete.

Politicians don't always ask questions like, "Can't we draw the lines based on prevailing neighborhood structures, and not split communities in this way?" No. They ask questions like, "How am I going to survive the challenge from that rabble-rouser down there?" Can you believe they give the keys to these decisions to the same officials who benefit from it?

I couldn't reach Ald. Maldonado for comment, but Ald. Flores texted me from the hospital: His lovely and brilliant wife Georgina is going to have their second child. Congratulations, Manny!

In the six-block stretch from Lake Street to Chicago Avenue, five wards are represented. Live in that area and your chance of city services, concern from your alderman, and other needs tend to go unnoticed. Time to think about moving.

I'm not too concerned about Ald. Maldonado's abilities to serve the constituents there; he's been doing a good job for his community. Once he gets up to speed, he'll get services out just as well as his predecessor, Billy Ocasio. But it would save a great deal of heartache, both for the aldermen and the constituents, to clean this up.

My main concern is, what are the aldermen and state reps going to do about this particular gerrymander coming into the next census and redistricting? Are they going to further slice it up? Or are they going to smooth those lines out, make the wards more rectangular (which, you may be surprised to know, is a legal requirement), and stop hurting their people in this way? Are Flores and Maldonado, not to mention Burnett, Waguespack, and Fioretti, going to fix this area come 2010?


Reader Marko Sabovic asks me to extend kudos to #22 Clark CTA bus operator No. 2080 (that's a low number!) on his 21st-anniversary party. He's a great guy, says Mark: he stops and talks to the customers and is extremely cheerful and funny. Riders love him. Let me know if you think another bus or train operator needs a special compliment.

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