Red Star Bulletin Issue #22

Red Star Bulletin Issue #22

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Welcome to Issue #22 of the Red Star Bulletin!

The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.

Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on, and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.

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An Illinois state statute requires the City Council of Chicago to submit its ward redistricting map proposal to the City Clerk every ten years to complete the decennial remapping process. The new ward maps are due by December of this year. Before that proposal is submitted, the City Council will vote on the ordinance, and the proposed map requires approval from at least 41 alders to pass. If 10 or more alders decide to submit an alternative map, the issue moves to a referendum, meaning that the public would have an opportunity to choose between the proposals in an election. The winning plan would then be submitted to the City Clerk and would go into effect before the next aldermanic election in 2023.

As routine as the procedure might sound, Chicago ward redistricting history is anything but. The real decision-making takes place in the shadows of City Hall. A barrage of litigation efforts—over everything from racial and political gerrymandering to deviations in constituent populations between wards—all lie at the core of this history. One characteristic of the process persists: its reflection of the alliances and rivalries among Chicago’s mayor and alderpersons of the era. In recent years, the 2nd Ward’s redistricting is a classic example that stands as a memento from the rivalry between former alder Bob Fioretti and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The ward map was last redrawn in 2012 and went into effect in 2015; it passed with the necessary approval of 41 alders, avoiding a referendum. Public hearings were held, but the main decisions were made in private between the alders—particularly those on the Finance Committee, which wields an enormous amount of power in the City Council and of which none of the socialist alderpersons are currently a part. After the 1990 census, voters had an opportunity to choose between two maps in a 1992 referendum, but at the cost of $20 million in taxpayer money for years of litigation. Although Chicago voters were given the illusion of choice, the ward map that won out was almost single-handedly drawn up by former city employee Lisa Ruble-Murphy, who later became a judge on the Cook County 14th Subcircuit. She essentially served as the primary source of facilitating the requests of all the alderpersons and community groups attempting to shape the map’s outcome.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were five court-ordered partial redistrictings to redress the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in the redrawn maps. This intentional underrepresentation is responsible for everything from the outcome of elections to histories of violence and lack of social services and government resources. Today, that underrepresentation continues in mixed wards for Black and Latinx Chicagoans alike. Rulings in cases such as Barnett v. City of Chicago (1996) dismiss this reality with the claim that discrimination against Black and Latinx voters wasn’t intentional in Chicago’s ward map, despite the ward boundaries being drawn by white alders. Two prime examples in the Barnett case were Richard Mell, who was the chairman of the reconstituted Rules Committee, and Ed Burke, who was the chairman of the Finance Committee. Burke is, to this day, hanging onto his aldermanic position in the 14th Ward in large part by controlling the very-white Garfield Ridge panhandle, which helps define it as one of the most suspiciously shaped wards in the city.

Fast forward to today: Lori Lightfoot campaigned on the promise to hire an independent review board to redraw Chicago’s ward maps. The mayor issued a press release on January 8, 2019, declaring the People First Pledge, which included the following: “Create a non-partisan City Council ward map redistricting process that is open, transparent, and respects ward boundaries as community boundaries.” In a statement on October 8, 2020, however, Lightfoot’s office avoided addressing whether the proposal for an independent review board would still be pursued. Sure enough, now that the city’s 2021 budget plan has been released, no funds are explicitly allocated towards her pledge for the ward map redistricting process. Nothing can be found on the city’s website about the upcoming redistricting. Citizen-proposed maps don’t exactly have a history of getting a seat at the table, painting a bleak picture for the near future.

There are other immediate obstacles: 2020 Census data appears to be delayed, and the pandemic is likely to produce other delays. But in spite of this, the effort to organize a democratic community response around redistricting is critical.

What efforts are in motion to address the lack of city resources allocated to redistricting projects and the historical lack of voter input, and what battles should we expect to witness and engage in as Chicagoans?

To address these concerns, the nonprofit CHANGE Illinois encourages the use of its map redrawing tool so that communities can themselves define what constitutes their communities. CHANGE Illinois is performing a Racial Equity Impact Assessment as a part of their process to produce drafts of dozens of maps. This resource is all the more significant considering that one of the initial hurdles to collective action after the 1990 Census was technology access. One computer in City Hall had the redistricting software, and the public had no access to it. The technology is now made available to the public on any computer with Internet access, eliminating this as an obstacle. This all said, we know all too well that access to technology and the Internet in Chicago’s most underserved neighborhoods reflects the very problems into which Chicago’s redistricting woes feed.

But even with adequate technology access, input into the map redrawing process may be limited in scope. The Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission is seeking to form a 13-person commission of Chicago residents, to which anyone of voting age who does not “have any political connections to aldermen or elected officials of any kind” can apply. The selection committee consists of five “independent” Chicagoans, including former Ald. Dick Simpson, who was one of the first high-profile Chicagoans to endorse Lightfoot’s run for mayor (as early as August 2018) and who served on her transition team as her advisor on ethics reform. With Lightfoot not delivering on her pledge to reform the redistricting procedure, Simpson will help redraw a ward map that will go up against the map presented by the city.

Properly surveying resident requests and desires to conceive our new ward maps will require a disciplined coalition across Chicago communities, but it will also require us to play close attention to the Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission in order to put pressure on it. We also need a strong movement to understand the history of the process, what’s at stake for the alders we support, and how we can adapt to put pressure on Lightfoot and City Hall to finally make this process democratic in ways that go beyond the ballot box.

The Appointment Machine

Following Mike Madigan’s failure to secure another term as Speaker of the House in the Illinois General Assembly, all signs pointed toward him resigning before his term was up. Doing so would be in keeping with a long tradition in Illinois and Chicago politics: politicians resigning in the middle of a term so that their replacement can be hand-picked rather than being elected. This allows the establishment to perpetuate itself, as it is generally easier for incumbents to win re-election than it is for their challengers.

When an elected official steps down or is removed from office during their term, party committeepersons vote to appoint their replacement. The replacement needs to get a simple majority of the weighted vote of the committeepersons in order to get the seat. In Chicago, ward boundaries serve as the committeeperson districts. Each ward has a Democratic and a Republican committeeperson. Which party’s committeeperson has authority to vote in appointment elections is determined by how the ward voted in the most recent gubernatorial election. Since Gov. J.B. Pritzker got a majority of the vote in every ward in the city, the Democratic committeeperson of every ward gets to vote in any appointment elections that come up during their tenure.

Multiple “elections” have been held under these rules in Chicago recently. Iris Martinez stepped down as state senator after being elected Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Eleven committeepersons, including Martinez, then chose Cristina Pacione-Zayas to replace her. Heather Steans, who was herself initially appointed to her position, resigned her state senate seat less than a week after being sworn in for a new term. Democratic committeepersons chose Mike Simmons to replace Steans. Finally, Mike Madigan followed through on tradition and resigned. The initial replacement chosen to replace Madigan, Edward Kodatt, himself resigned only three days after being appointed. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar was then appointed to replace Kodatt.

This appointment process is undemocratic and lacks transparency. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who sought appointment to Heather Steans’ senate seat, openly complained about the backroom deals which lead to Mike Simmons’ appointment. Since Mike Madigan serves as the 13th ward committeeperson, and the 13th ward gets 48 percent of the weighted vote in choosing the appointee to the 22nd district representative seat, Madigan essentially was able to choose his successor single-handedly. Twice.

In total, 35 out of 118 current state representatives were initially appointed to their seats rather than being elected. That includes 14 out of 27 of the state representatives whose districts are in Chicago—more than half. Only seven out of 118 representatives won their seats by defeating an incumbent in a primary election. Twenty-six out of 59 current state senators were initially appointed rather than elected. That includes nine out of 14 of the senators whose districts include Chicago. Only three senators won their seats by defeating an incumbent in a primary election.

It is likely that CDSA will endorse a handful of candidates running for seats in the Illinois General Assembly in the 2022 election cycle. As the chapter increases its electoral presence, we need to begin grappling with issues such as the appointment process. Three CDSA members currently serve as Democratic committeepersons—in wards 1, 25, and 35. We would do well to think through what process we would like to see used to replace elected officials who resign or are otherwise removed from office. While it is unlikely that we would be able to force through a legislative change to the process any time soon, we may someday have enough comrades serving as committeepersons that we could dictate a transparent, democratic process.

The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Brent Glass, Nick Hussong, Sean Kase, Charlotte Kissinger, Alan Maass, and Taylor Martin. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email