City Ward Map Lawsuit Headed Back to Court

By Ted Cox on February 28, 2014 6:49am 

 Attorney Tom Geoghegan argues the city's remap creates wards that are "crazy quilts."
Attorney Tom Geoghegan argues the city's remap creates wards that are "crazy quilts."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The city and the League of Women Voters are heading for a rematch in federal court over the Chicago ward remap adopted after the 2010 census.

A federal judge tossed out the suit filed by the league in the fall, but attorney Tom Geoghegan filed an appeal, and the city filed its response to it last week. Oral arguments will most likely take place in April or May.

"We do hope for a better result, and we think we have really strong basis for this appeal," Geoghegan said this week.

"We alleged political discrimination. We alleged departure from traditional criteria," Geoghegan said. "The court just didn't apply the right legal standard. That's really what we're arguing."

The new map was accepted by the City Council in 2012 with 41 aldermen voting in favor — one more than was required to keep it from being challenged in a citywide referendum. Yet it dramatically altered some ward boundaries, specifically those for Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Nick Sposato (36th), who have since joined forces in the Progressive Reform Caucus.

Sposato's 36th Ward was greatly altered, while Fioretti's 2nd Ward was entirely moved, basically from the South Loop, West Loop and Bronzeville to River North, Streeterville, the Gold Coast and Near North.

"One-hundred percent of Bob's constituents were taken away," Geoghegan said.

"The City Council majority wants to settle scores," Geoghegan added. "The city has made two aldermen walk the plank, so to speak."

While the new ward boundaries don't officially take effect until the spring 2015 city election, some aldermen have already started abiding by them, offering services to residents who are technically still living in another ward.

Fioretti and Sposato have complained about the remap, but did not join the suit, filed by the League of Women Voters and about a dozen individual voters who said they were disenfranchised.

The city's appeal brief, filed Friday by Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, responded that, even if the aldermen were discriminated against, that didn't disenfranchise voters, stating: "A one-person, one-vote claim requires allegations that a redistricting will disadvantage voters, not their aldermen."

 Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton argues that, even if the city's remap hurts individual aldermen, that doesn't mean it discriminates against voters.
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton argues that, even if the city's remap hurts individual aldermen, that doesn't mean it discriminates against voters.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"I think that's disingenuous on behalf of the city's lawyers," Fioretti said Thursday. "Who gets hurt? The voters get hurt."

Fioretti said the 2nd Ward had been a "historically black ward" that is now on the Near North Side. "That really spits in the face of voters," he added.

Most statewide suits against gerrymandering have argued discrimination by Republicans against Democrats or vice versa, but the city argues that in this case, since most voters in the city are Democrats, it's impossible to prove such discrimination.

"The city argument is you can't identify who was hurt in terms of voters," Geoghegan said. "There can certainly be political discrimination in the City of Chicago by regulars against independents." He cited the Shakman suits, adding, "and it's common sense."

The suit also attacks the irregular size and shape of the wards under the map.

"The districts are not compact, as required by law," Geoghegan said. "They're crazy quilts. The map is just Byzantine."

Yet again the city argued that did not disenfranchise voters, stating that the plaintiffs "completely fail to allege any harm to voters resulting from the 'uncouth' shapes or new ward locations."

The Mayor's Press Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Fioretti, meanwhile, said he hopes the suit succeeds.

"I think it has merit," he said.

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