A federal judge on Monday ordered that special elections be conducted in seven of the city’s 50 wards, a development that could, for the first time, give Mayor Harold Washington the upper hand on the politically and racially divided City Council.
“There have been no fair aldermanic or committeemen elections in these wards since the city redrew the ward map in 1981,” U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle said in issuing the redistricting order, which will give blacks and Latinos increased representation in the seven wards.
Norgle set the special elections to be concurrent with state elections on March 18.
The new map might give Washington, the city’s first black mayor, a majority on the City Council because it increases Latino representation in four wards and adds strength for blacks in three others.
Norgle approved the redrawn map Friday, but delayed until Monday deciding whether Chicago would be allowed to wait for regular city elections in 1987.
Chicago’s population is about 40% black, 40% white, and 14% Latino, with Asians and other groups making up the remainder. On the City Council, however, whites outnumber blacks 33 to 16. The 50th member is a Latino.
All seven redistricted wards are represented by aldermen--six whites and one Latino--who are aligned with Edward Vrdolyak, leader of the majority bloc in the council and Washington’s chief political foe. The map approved by Judge Norgle represented a compromise between lawyers for the minority-group plaintiffs and Vrdolyak’s council bloc.
The Justice Department intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs when lawyers representing three minority groups challenged a 1981 map drawn by the council to reflect population shifts found in the 1980 census. The suit claimed that the map was racially gerrymandered.