CHICAGO — A federal judge Friday approved a redistricting plan for the city's political boundaries that consolidates minority voting strength in seven wards and could hand Mayor Harold Washington his first City Council majority since he took office in 1983.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle said he would rule Monday on whether to hold early elections in the redistricted wards or wait for the regularly scheduled 1987 elections.
Lawyers representing blacks and Latinos challenged a 1981 council-drawn redistricting plan-- required by population shifts reflected in the 1980 census--charging in a lawsuit that the plan involved racial gerrymandering.
The dispute took on added significance with the 1983 election of Washington as the city's first black mayor. In a string of bitter battles dubbed "Council Wars," the mayor's 21 aldermanic supporters consistently have been outvoted and outmaneuvered by a 29-member white majority bloc led by Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak.
The battles have centered on millions of dollars in contracts and federal funds, scores of appointments and, most recently, the ward boundaries.
"The voters will decide if the balance of power (in the City Council) changes, but that wasn't our intent," lawyer Ray Romero said after the ruling. He represents Latino plaintiffs, one of three groups who brought the lawsuit. "Our intent was to secure voting rights for minorities."
Norgle's decision strengthens Latino majorities in four wards and black majorities in three of the city's 50 wards. All seven redistricted wards are represented by aldermen, six white and one Latino, aligned with Vrdolyak.
Mayor Needs 4 Votes
Washington supporters need to win only four of those wards to gain a working majority because the mayor may cast a tie-breaking vote if the council deadlocks, 25 to 25.
"Whatever the political circumstances will be is now up to (the) people to decide at the ballot box," said lawyer Jeff Coleman, who represented one of two black groups in the action.
Chicago's population is about 40% black, 40% white and 14% Latino, with Asians and others making up the remainder.
In the City Council, however, whites outnumber blacks 34 to 16, including one Latino alderman who consistently votes with the Vrdolyak bloc.