Chicago’s Ultra Vires City Council

Chicago’s Ultra Vires City Council

Was the City Council’s vote to approve the “Rahm-Map” and avoid a referendum an Ultra Vires Act beyond their power?

“Anybody that voted for that map should be unelected” said 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, referring to the machine-coalition that passed the 2012 Ward “Rahm-Map” to avoid a public referendum.  “The people throughout this city are disenfranchised by this map.”

Interestingly, nobody wants to take responsibility for drafting the “Rahm-Map” claimed Fioretti who confirmed that it was not shown during the standing room only public hearing at DePaul University held by Ald. Richard Mell—January 18th, 2012.  In fact, the City Council was shown the “Rahm-Map” for the first time only 30 minutes before the vote the following day.

The “Rahm-Map” Lack of Transparency 

It remains an open question whether the public at the meeting was informed of the pending special call vote noticed by the Mayor himself the day prior and slated to occur the following day—January 19th, 2012.  In fact, when asked, Ald. Fioretti responded, “I would say that it was clearly concealed.”

The lack of transparency surrounding the “Rahm-Map” raises questions about Ald. Mell’s true intentions and whether the meeting had any genuine purpose other than to create the appearance of public participation.

Attorney Ted Wrobleski who testified at the hearing on behalf of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association said that some of the proposed maps had Lincoln Park divided up into 5 separate wards.  He confirmed that 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith objected to the maps proposed at the hearing but later became the deciding vote on the “Rahm-Map” avoiding the referendum.

If you look at the Chicago Tribune photos following the redistricting vote, you’ll see aldermen literally trying to find their ward boundaries on the new map said Ald. Fioretti, who agrees that most of his colleagues lack the political will to stand up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  “After they showed the map on that morning they should have gone to public hearings around the city saying this is what we’re proposing” said Ald. Fioretti.  It was never done.

Ald. Brendan Reilly who voted for the redistricting responded in a tweet that he was not happy with the remap either.  So why did he vote for the map?  Crickets—no response.   “Their actions don’t back their words” said Ald. Fioretti who believes the redistricting was done “for pensions not for the people of this city.”

The League of Women Voters Lawsuit

Thomas Geohegan, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters lawsuit challenging the legality of the 2012 Ward Remap explained that “we filed a motion for preliminary injunction. We have expedited discovery and Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss.”

At some point the parties are going to be back before the judge to resolve their discovery disputes, which at this point, are only requests for written documents.

“Our anticipation is that the judge will take up the motion for preliminary injunction in connection with the defendant’s motion to dismiss” said Geoghegan though “we’ve filed our response to the motion to dismiss they have a reply” due soon in which he intends to fully brief the court on before the matter is heard.

Ald. Fioretti, an attorney himself, believes the City’s strategy is to protract the litigation process until the 2015 elections.

Geoghegan declined to discuss the possibility of personally joining some of the 41 aldermen who voted in favor of the 2012 Remap to avoid a referendum under the Doctrine of Ultra Vires Acts which are acts beyond powers conferred upon the municipality by law, potentially making the aldermen individually responsible for their own legal costs.

“Well there are six counts” explained Geoghegan but they are “grouped in federal and state claims on each aspect.”  “One is early implementation of the map.  The second is that the map deviates from one person one vote and does so for reasons that taint the map with arbitrary and capricious actions,” according to Geoghegan.

“So it’s not simply that we are challenging the deviation” said attorney Geoghegan, “We are challenging the deviation under circumstances that show that the [population] deviation is not for any good faith practical reason but for gerrymandering.”

The third set of claims is that the map is not compact and contiguous.  The City “did not use what I would call traditional redistricting criteria to create it and therefore its void under both the constitution as failing to meet minimal rationality” said Geoghegan, “that is, no real reference to traditional redistricting criteria.”

Also, there is a one person one vote claim which is based on the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and on state law which also says that the ward “shall be divided equally by population except to the extent practicable.”

Geoghegan believes that there was no practical reason why the wards couldn’t have been divided equally by population.  “Certainly no reason in terms of protection of minority voting rights because both south side NAACP and MALDEF proposed maps which protected minority voting rights equally or even more stringently and still divided the wards equally by population” explained Geoghegan.

“We agree that the purpose of the division of the wards was to get 41 votes and that’s not justification for deviation of population” said Geoghegan.

Importantly, the League of Women Voters suit claims that the 2012 Remap is void under the Illinois statute that says that the wards need to be divided equally by population and compact and contiguous.

Cracking and Packing

“The former 2nd Ward seems to have been dissolved into the 4th and 3rd Wards” explained Dr. Matthew Shapiro an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Illinois Institute of Technology who recently authored the paper “Cracking and packing in Chicago: an argument for more informed analysis of gerrymandering.”

“It’s a right or wrong question and in that sense we have to think about what it actually can accomplish” says Dr. Shapiro.  An important goal of our legal safeguards is to “prevent abuses of political power when an electoral district is restructured to provide advantage to, for example, an incumbent representative.”

In the context of ward boundary shifts, the term “cracking” refers to splitting homogenous groups of voters to dilute their vote while “packing” refers to districting like-minded citizens to increase vote concentration.

Discussing changes to the redistricted 2nd ward, Dr. Shapiro confirmed that “what does change the overall vote structure is the racial difference” and believes that if any of the aldermen are “responding to their constituency by race and they’re responding disproportionately by race then this would constitute irreparable harm.”  “Irreparable harm” is a harm which can’t be compensated for with money, disenfranchisement for example and a necessary element for granting of an injunction.

In his paper presented to the 2013 Midwest Political Science Association Conference, Dr. Shapiro’s examination of the 2010 census data and 2012 Ward Remap confirms:

  • ward shapes are getting even more perverted;
  • the number of blacks decreased significantly in two wards while the average proportion of blacks increased overall, implying that these were deliberate and clear shifts; and
  • Hispanic and blacks (and blacks especially) are less represented in mixed wards when comparing the 2000 to the 2015 ward maps.”

“We are basically witnessing some sort of blended multiple constituency effort by our elected officials.  It’s probably a very uncommon phenomenon in electoral politics” says Dr. Shapiro

The Aldermanic Menu Program

Asked whether the Aldermanic Menu Program—which provides a discretionary budget to use for infrastructure improvements in the respective wards—was being offered to all 50 Aldermen or being “porked,” Fioretti responded, “It is porked, that’s all it is.”

In effect, the incumbent City Council has given themselves the ability to direct aldermanic funds to win favor with voters in the next election.  “A lot of these people are only giving menu money to certain new constituents.  Or, so I’ve been told” said Ald. Fioretti.

The Machine Coalition Has a Purpose

The challenges of understanding gerrymandering in Chicago despite landmark legal rulings and rich literature on the subject are primarily related to conceptual ambiguity and measurement.

The Machine Coalition gerrymandering we’re seeing in Chicago has multiple purposes other than the public interest:  Incumbency, campaign finance, news endorsements, racial conflict, voter participation, and it’s not anyone of these things “it’s all of these things” says Ald. Fioretti.

According to Dr. Shapiro “the lesson to take from that is we need more [data].  We don’t have enough and this is standard in any science.”  It’s not lack of information given to the public which is gerrymandering.  It’s the public’s inability to provide feedback to their officials who can vote one way or the other come redistricting.  “The really funny thing though” says Dr. Shapiro “is, which constituency do you respond to?”

The Redrawn 2nd Ward

Jointly, Ald. Scott Waguespack and Ald. Fioretti proposed a redistricting map that was rejected which would’ve kept communities intact with a much lower number of aldermen.  “For some reason the political interests were for their own pocket books and pensions and it was not for the people of this city” Fioretti said.

Subsequently, the “Rahm-Map” completely redrew the 2nd Ward outside its current ward boundaries and according to Dr. Shapiro, represents the best example of the bizarre geometric configuration lacking in compact and contiguous boundaries. 

So, which constituency does Ald. Fioretti respond to?  “I’m serving both,” said Ald. Fioretti. “Each one of these communities has very particular needs. Whether it’s Streeterville, the Gold Coast area, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and if you look at it—the map how it’s drawn—these people have very particular concerns,” explained Fioretti.

“Some of these areas have been ignored for years.  Well they won’t be ignored by me,” says Fioretti.  “We’re going down every alley, every street and making an inventory of what needs to be done to bring this up to the top level of service.”

“You can walk with me through my Ward—the current 2nd Ward—and you would see improvements on every block.  No other alderman can say that,” said Fioretti.

“We’re going door to door.  We’re meeting with the community groups.  We’re listening to their concerns,” Fioretti says.  “They’re going to get one of the highest levels of service an alderman can provide to anybody in this City of Chicago.”


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