Saturday, January 28, 2012

White guys in the Latino caucus?

It always amused me that state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, went out of his way to include himself in the Illinois House’s Latino caucus – making a point of sitting in with other Latino state legislators whenever they would meet privately to derive their stance on certain issues.

Burke said he felt that since his legislative district on the Southwest Side had such a significant Latino population, it was his obligation to try to understand his constituents.

BECAUSE NOT COMPREHENDING them would be a sure-fire way toward having them turn on him and vote someone else into office.

Some people ridiculed his gesture as nothing more than a token effort to understand Latinos, and that just because he sat in on a few meetings did not make him suddenly aware of what his constituents were thinking.

But on the whole, I always saw his gesture as being more than most political people were willing to do – since the usual reaction of a political person representing an area with a growing Latino population is to somehow cling to the declining white population in the area and try to figure out ways to maximize its political power!

In short, political denial.

SO IT IS with a feeling of amusement that I will be observing the City Council in coming months, where the head of the council’s Latino caucus (25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis) said this week that the caucus is now willing to include aldermen who represent neighborhoods with significant Latino populations.

Solis said he wants to increase the influence of Latino politicos, and figures that this is one way to boost the total numbers – which will go up after the 2015 municipal elections when new aldermen are elected under the new ward map that has 13 Latino-based wards and two more wards that are Latino-influenced.

Now whether that tactic will work is questionable. Because the real factor is whether the white aldermen will want to alter their view of the world to include their Latino constituents more thoroughly.

If they don’t want to, it won’t matter if Solis is able to include their names on his “list” of Latino-leaning aldermen. Latinos might not gain much from this move.

BUT I WILL say that if these aldermen have any sense whatsoever, they will reach out to their growing numbers of Latino constituents (29 percent of the city’s overall 2.7 million population is Latino, according to the 2010 census).

If they have any sense, they will accept this invitation as the least of gestures they can make to representing the people who live within their wards. They ought to be jumping at the chance to make this move. If they’re not willing to do so, then perhaps they deserve to get dumped come the ’15 election cycle.

So 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke (Dan’s brother) will get the chance to show some understanding, as will 10th Ward Alderman John Pope (whose ward includes some of the oldest Spanish-speaking enclaves in Chicago and will now be 63 percent Latino).

Other aldermen who got un invitado include Marty Quinn (13th Ward), Toni Foulkes (15th Ward), Michael Zalewski (23rd Ward), Nick Sposato (36th Ward) and Richard Mell of the 33rd Ward, who was in charge of the recently-completed redistricting effort for the Chicago City Council and whose daughter, Deb Mell, serves in the Latino Caucus in her role as a state representative from the Northwest Side.

SO WHILE CANDIDATES such as Pope have been successful at defeating Latino challengers (claiming he can appeal to Latino voters) and people like Sposato had approached the Latino Caucus leadership in the past about being included (only to be rebuffed), we’re going to get a better picture of how interested they are in the growing segment of their wards.

This is one case where a politician acting in their own self-interest would also be beneficial to the people of Chicago as a whole.


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