By DAVID K. FREMON
Chicago's Spanish-American politics in the '80s
They started the decade a minority but growing in numbers, divided among themselves and severely underrepresented in local and state government. For the most part, Chicago's Hispanics have ended the 1980s in the same postion as they began it.
Ten years ago, Illinois Issues published an article titled "Manana will be better: Spanish-American politics in Chicago" (Luis M. Salces and Peter W. Colby, February 1989). And there is no doubt: The "manana" of the 1980s has seen a number of strides toward Hispanic representation in Chicago. The city now has four "Hispanic" wards, for instance. But how much better has manana been? An overview of Hispanic elected officials in the last decade shows that the various ethnic groups that make up the Hispanic community have a long way to go to reach political parity with their numbers, or to achieve recognition from the regular Democratic organization, which still controls most of Cook County politics.
Hispanics in early 1980 had virtually zero representation: a token Cook County commissioner (Irene Hernandez), a University of Illinois trustee (Arturo Velazquez Jr.) and two Cook County Circuit Court judges. At the end of 1989, aside from judges and university trustees, Hispanics elected to office numbered 11: Irene Hernandez plus Joseph Berrios, Ray Castro, Miguel del Valle, Raymond Figueroa, Jesus Garcia, Luis Gutierrez, Ben Martinez, Miguel Santiago, Juan Soliz and Manual Torres. Three of them — Castro, Santiago and Torres — were one-termers who lost reelection bids, but one of the trio, Santiago, returned to public office, as a state representative.
Of those 11, most entered office by bucking the local establishment, not joining it. Del Valle, Figueroa, Garcia, Gutierrez and Soliz all started their careers as independents. Castro, although a Democratic regular, unseated incumbent 7th Ward committeeman Joseph Bertrand in 1980.
Three factors were paramount in the independents' gains. First, they started their own political organizations called Independent Political Organizations (IPOs) in most wards. These IPOs helped many Hispanics overcome their reservation about becoming U.S. citizens (Jesus Garcia, now 22nd Ward alderman and Democratic committeeman, remained a Mexican citi-
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zen until 1980). They registered new citizens and others to vote, and ran their own candidates in local elections — Rudy Lozano and Juan Velazques in aldermanic races and Juan Soliz for state representative.
Harold Washington was the second reason for independent Hispanic gains. Early in his 1983 mayoral campaign he formed a "rainbow coalition" and teamed with Lozano, Soliz, Velazquez and others. Washington's outreach to the Hispanic community did him little good in the primary; he received only about 13 percent of the Hispanic vote. But by most accounts he won a majority of Hispanic voters in the general election, although much of that vote might have come from the traditional Hispanic tendency to back the Democratic primary winner. Hispanic representatives probably exaggerate when they claim that the Hispanic vote gave Washington his 48,000-vote margin of victory. The most generous estimate, by the Midwest Voters Registration and Education Project (MVREP), which gave Washington 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, would have provided him with a 45,000-vote cushion among Hispanics. But there is no doubt that Hispanic support greatly helped Washington win the general election.
Washington saw the advantages of this coalition against organization-backed white ethnics who dominated the Hispanic wards. Since none of the city's black politicians wanted or dared to oppose Chicago's first black mayor in the 1984 elections for ward committeemen and state representatives, Washington could spend time working with allied candidates against Democratic regulars in the Hispanic wards. That assistance proved the margin of victory in the 22nd Ward committeeman race for Garcia (an associate of the recently murdered Lozano) and Soliz in the 20th District state representative primary. Ironically, both candidates lost the Hispanic vote in their elections; solid margins among black voters gave them their narrow wins.
Courts provided the third factor in independent victories at the city level. A coalition of blacks and Hispanics filed suit in 1981 charging that the city's re-apportioned ward map discriminated against their groups. Federal Judge Thomas McMillan in 1982 overturned that map and ordered a new one drawn. The plaintiffs continued their challenge, claiming that the McMillan map did not move far enough to remedy past discrimination. The Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs in 1984, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal a year later. At the end of 1985, Judge Charles Norgle accepted a compromise map and ruled that special elections coinciding with the 1986 primaries must be held in four Hispanic wards and three black wards. Hispanics won most of those elections: Garcia as 22nd Ward alderman and committeeman, Soliz as 25th Ward alderman, and machine-backed Manuel Torres as 26th Ward committeeman. Washington-backed Luis Gutierrez defeated Torres in a runoff for 26th Ward alderman after one of the most colorful, expensive and raucous aldermanic elections in Chicago history. The Gutierrez victory gave Washington the majority of aldermen that he needed to assume control of the City Council. A year later, Raymond Figueroa replaced 1983 winner Santiago as 31st Ward alderman. Figueroa, Gutierrez and Soliz consolidated power within their respective wards by winning committeeman election in 1988.
State legislative election victories came with less fanfare. Edward Nedza, the only white Democratic ward committeeman to slate Hispanics before 1986 (As 31st Ward committeeman he slated both Santiago for alderman and Berrios for state representative.), was ousted as state senator by del Valle in the 1986 Democratic primary. Soliz, who made peace with the regulars before the 1984 general election, was replaced by fellow Mexican-American Ben Martinez in the General Assembly when Soliz won the Chicago aldermanic election.
Gains already made may be the last ones for Hispanics in the near future because the problems which faced them in 1980 are, for the most part, still there. Those problems include geographic dispersion, nationality fragmentation, population undercount, ineligibility to vote, and the low average age of the population.
True, the 1985 ward remap provided for four wards with Hispanic "super-majorities" of 65 to 70 percent. But those four wards contain only about one-third of Chicago's Hispanics, according to Jorge Casuso, a Chicago Tribune reporter generally considered one of the city's leading authorities on Hispanic politics. The remaining Hispanics, for the most part, live in predominantly white communities. And few of those Hispanics outside of the near northwest and near southwest side barrios have voted to challenge the local political organizations. Only two Hispanics outside the Hispanic wards, David Vargas in the 7th and Emma Lozano in the 32nd, ran for alderman in 1987. Just two others, Gerald Garcia in the 10th Ward and Nicholas Flores in the 11th, ran for Democratic committeeman in 1988.
Fragmentation within the Hispanic community poses another problem. Although outsiders may perceive Hispanics as a monolithic group because of their common language, Chicago's Hispanics come from many different nationalities, economies and political philosophies. Puerto Ricans, on the whole, rank even below blacks on the local economic scale. The Mexican community is largely working class but with a growing professional segment. Cubans in Chicago are descendents of the middle-to-upper class who fled Fidel Castro shortly after the 1959 revolution. South Americans, who had the wherewithal to fly here, generally are more prosperous than the Central Americans, many of whom came here as political refugees. Politically speaking, Hispanics range from extreme left to extreme right. Even within a nationality, there are differences. Some Mexicans, for example, have been here for generations and consider themselves yet another white ethnic group. Others see themselves as a disadvantaged minority and are more likely to back black and/or liberal candidates.
As a result, Hispanics are far from unanimity in their voting patterns and will not automatically unite behind a Hispanic candidate. When Washington supported Puerto Rican Gloria Chevare for city clerk in the 1987 primary, 63 percent of Puerto Ricans followed his choice, compared with only 42 percent of Mexicans.
Another problem that beset Chicago Hispanics was the apparent undercount in the last census. "Many Hispanics, even long-term residents, are understandably reluctant to trust
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government agencies, including the Census Bureau," Garcia notes. "But we need their enumeration in order to secure the representation our community deserves."
The greatest hindrance to Hispanic political empowerment is the inability of many Hispanics to vote. Puerto Ricans, as U.S. citizens, may vote here. But those of other nationalities must first convert to U.S. citizenship, a move legally or psychologically impossible for many. In addition, Hispanics of all nationalities tend to have larger families than either blacks or whites. This means more children — and thus more persons who cannot cast ballots.
These two factors, noncitizenship and underage residents, give the four Hispanic wards what appear to be abnormally low vote totals. Throughout the 1980s, the Hispanic wards remained the bottom four of Chicago's 50 wards in terms of voter turnout. In 1986, nine different black or white ethnic wards contained more registered voters than the four Hispanic wards combined.
Another factor kept the vote total abnormally low — vote purges which largely offset registration gains. Before 1980, only the precinct captains from regular party organizations were active in Hispanic voter registration, and they ignored all but those residents they believed certain to vote their way. But in the Harold Washington era, independent groups sprang up which did their own registration. Democratic regulars routinely challenged the registrations of these newcomers. Most new registrants declined to protest these challenges. As a result, few new Hispanics reached the voter rolls. "The purges even negated our voter increases a few times," notes MVREP executive director Juan Andrade. "We saw a net increase of 36,000 registered voters from 1982 to 1989," says Andrade. "But because of the purges, it probably took 100,000 registrations to get that increase. The Board of Elections claims that only 1 percent of the purges are unjustified. But we've conducted two studies showing that the margin of error is closer to 20 percent for blacks, Hispanics and low-income families."
Granted, apathy does exist among Hispanic voters. Election statistics for the 1989 mayoral primary and general elections showed a Hispanic turnout of only about 48 percent, much lower than that of whites or blacks. But even in the 1986 special ward elections which put Hispanics on the local electoral map, turnout was disappointing, according to political analyst Ron Maydon. "There were four factors about the special elections that precluded any apologies or alibis. Everyone had a million dollars of publicity they never could have bought. There was the importance of the swing votes in the City Council. You had the results of a legal battle, guaranteed Hispanic representation. And there were hotly contested races in three of the four wards. Yet, only 54 percent of the Hispanics in those wards went to the polls."
Perhaps because of the above factors, Democratic regulars have shown little inclination to slate Hispanics in meaningful numbers. Berrios got the nod in 1988 to fill an opening on the Cook County Board of (Tax) Appeals. And Mayor Richard M. Daley selected backer Miriam Santos for the vacant position of city treasurer. Yet two opportunities were missed in 1989 when vacancies opened in districts with growing Hispanic populations. Daley's brother John, the main committeeman in the 21st state legislative district, chose 11th Ward organization worker Pamela Munizzi instead of a Hispanic to take his seat when he moved to the Illinois Senate. Mayor Daley nominated Carole Bialczak, an ally of 30th Ward Committeeman and state Sen. Ted Lechowicz, instead of a Hispanic to fill the City Council vacancy created by the death of George Hagopian.
But Hispanics are learning to play the game, the kind of hardball which in Illinois is the only game many politicians understand. Since 1980, Hispanics have been shut out in new circuit court judgeships. Circuit Court Judge David Cerda was appointed to the Appellate Court, but Circuit Judge Jose Vazquez was defeated in his retention election. State Sen. del Valle, with Chicago black state Reps. Paul L. Williams and Anthony L. Young, led the fight in the General Assembly last spring to force election of circuit court judges in Cook County from individual districts, which could — in theory, anyway — put Hispanic judges in the court. They formed an alliance with suburban Cook County Republicans, and threatened at one point to support a Republican Supreme Court judge from Cook County in the November election. It was the refusal by the Black Caucus, of which del Valle is a member, to support the Democrat-led income tax increase that forced Senate President Philip J. Rock to accede to the election of Cook County Circuit Court judges by districts. Signed by the governor, the law calls for drawing the districts after the 1990 census.
Del Valle should have considerable say in those new districts, as well as in new boundaries for state legislative districts and congressional districts to be drawn after the census. He is a member of the Senate Elections and Redistricting Committee where the process of redistricting will begin in the General Assembly once the census is complete.
Few experts expect to see striking Hispanic gains before the results of the census are announced. "When those numbers come out, I think that will be the next watershed in Hispanic empowerment," says Ray Romero, an Illinois Commerce Commission member, who was one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the last remap suit.
Andrade expects to find ample evidence for more Hispanic districts after the census. "I'm looking for eight Hispanic wards, four on the north side, three on the south side, perhaps one in south Chicago, plus five representatives and three state senators," he proclaims. With Illinois losing two or perhaps three congressional seats, only the most optimistic of Hispanic pols envision a Hispanic congressional district.
Of course any new districts for Hispanics would come at the expense of existing — mainly white — incumbents. Del Valle comments, "There's a natural tendency to protect turf, and, there's a natural tendency for Hispanics to want their share." He, as well as Andrade and Romero and Aldermen Garcia and Gutierrez, foresee the likelihood of another courtroom battle over state and/or city legislative districts. And as Andrade puts it: "I don't expect any early concessions from anybody."
David K. Fremon is a Chicago political writer and author of chicago Politics Ward by Ward, Indiana University Press, 1988.
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