Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Battle of Beverly, the sequel? Yet another redistricting brawl to dismay us

MARKHAM, Ill. – It seems that the community activists from the Beverly neighborhood are geared up for a political brawl, and their punching bag of choice will be Cook County government.

These are the activists who engaged in a vocal and visible crusade back when Chicago was drawing the new boundaries for the City Council’s 50 wards.

REMEMBER HOW THE 19th Ward that historically included all of the Beverly neighborhood was redrawn to stretch into surrounding communities, while also dumping some people on the eastern edges of Beverly into a ward with their neighbors from the Morgan Park neighborhood?

Those people lost that brawl, and it still smarts. Or so it seems.

Because now the Cook County Board is engaged in the process of drawing new boundaries for its 17 districts. The board’s redistricting committee on Tuesday held the first of what will be three or four hearings where the politicians will pretend they’re listening to the public’s interests.

That first session held in a basement courtroom of the south suburban courthouse based in Markham became dominated by Beverly residents – many of whom were the same people who ranted and raged about the redistricting that split up their wards (and put some of them in boundaries with people of neighboring communities whom they’d prefer – for various reasons – to ignore).

ONLY NOW, INSTEAD of screaming about how “sacred” their 19th Ward is, they’re engaging about how special a place the 11th county commissioner district is.

That particular district is NOT just Beverly. But it takes in many neighborhoods that encompass the spirit of the Sout’ Side Irish of old – even if their modern-day composition is a mixture of ethnic groups.

It takes in at its far end the Bridgeport neighborhood, which is how it is the political turf of Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, who sat through Tuesday’s committee hearing with a grin repeatedly popping up on his face after person-after-person got up to testify about what a wonderful place the 11th District is, and how incredible a public official Daley is toward his constituents.

“I feel I was lucky enough to have grown up there,” 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea told his county government counterparts.

NOW DON’T TAKE this the wrong way. I’m not knocking the one remaining son of late Mayor Richard J. Daley who is involved in politics.

Maybe he really is that attentive to the people who voted him into office.

Or maybe the “Daley” name just has that much pull in Chicago, making people feel like they’re something special by being able to say he’s their representative in Cook County government.

Which is a claim that I doubt many people can make. Personally, I have always wondered how many people have a clue who their county board member is?

OR IF THEY really understand the difference between municipal and county government (and no, the joke that a county board member is someone not quite good enough to get elected alderman doesn’t work here – even if there is an element of truth to it).

But listening to official after official, including mayors of suburban Oak Lawn and Hometown that also are in the 11th District, engage in the rhetorical love is just a bit much.

Particularly since Tuesday’s hearing was likely the only chance for South Side and surrounding people to express their views on redistricting – unless they feel like making a trip to Maywood or Des Plaines next week.

Based on what I heard at that hearing, it seems the whole world wants to live in the Cook County 11th district with Beverly as its spiritual center, and be represented by a Daley. Hardly anybody else expressed a thought.

THAT KIND OF apathy by the public ultimately is what leads to what likely will be the end result – when the county government does get around to finally creating new boundaries for its districts, there will be a lot of disappointed people.

Because I suspect that for all the talk of public hearings and maintenance of a special room (number 1134 at the County Building, 118 N. Clark St.) where people can use county computers to draw their own political boundaries for consideration, the maps that ultimately get approved are ones being concocted by the politicos in that oldest of political clichés – the smoke-filled room.

That is, unless all the health and wellness initiatives being touted in recent weeks by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have made it illegal.

But whether there is smoke or not, the end result will be just as secretive.


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