Monday, June 18, 2012

Add Tobolski to list including Madigan, Burkes of white pols from Latino areas

A part of me wonders if the Cook County Board is on to something when it comes to dealing with the growing Latino population – which accounts for 29 percent of Chicago’s official population and about one-fifth of the metropolitan area’s people.
TOBOLSKI: The new "Latino" pol

For when the City Council and the Illinois General Assembly went through their redistricting processes to draw boundaries for their wards and districts for the upcoming decade, the end result were maps that left Latino activists feeling that the population growth was not reflected.

YET THE COOK County Board is set to approve a map when they meet Tuesday that adds another district meant to elect a Latino public official – potentially boosting the number of Latinos on the 17-member county board from two to three.

Commissioners Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Edwin Reyes could soon have another of their ethnic brethren as a colleague on the board. Or maybe not.

To achieve that goal, the people who spent the past few months reviewing population trends in Cook County altered the district meant to represent the inner western suburbs (the ones right along the Chicago/suburban border).

There are growing numbers of Latino residents just about everywhere, but the town of Cicero that once was considered the home of the offspring of Al Capone is now overwhelmingly a Mexican-American town. Some 84 percent of its population falls into that category.

SO COUNTY OFFICIALS drew a map that centered the district around Cicero, using its overwhelming ethnic population as an anchor to create a district rigged to bolster the chances of another Latino official getting picked – some 56 percent of its people of voting age are Latino.

That is an increase from the old district that will cease to exist after Tuesday. Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski of suburban McCook got elected in 2010 in a district that was 41 percent Latino people of voting age.

Tobolski himself admits his district has changed substantially, although he has been smart enough not to complain about it in public. Because he likely plans to seek re-election, and doesn’t have plans to move (since he is a lifelong McCook resident whose parents had their own local political ties).

Tobolski is going to have to show that he can appeal to Latinos, as well as other people. If he can, then more power to him. Because nowhere in electoral politics are there any guarantees.

NOT EVEN THAT a district with a majority Latino population will get a Latino official to represent them, even though Garcia – a former alderman and state senator – says of the proposed county map, “the creation of new Latino-majority districts in this case provides new opportunities for the community to exert itself.”

But Tobolski still has the benefits of incumbency, bolstered by the tendencies of the Latino voter bloc to not turn out in as strong of numbers as other segments of the electorate.

The county board is going to boast on Tuesday how they boosted the number of Latinos who will serve amongst them. But they may have done more for incumbent preservation than anything else.

It could be more like the City Council or the state Legislature, where officials such as 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke or Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, were given safe districts on the city’s Southwest Side – even though they have large numbers of Latino voters living within them.

THAT CERTAINLY WOULD put Tobolski in an exclusive club, if he manages to get re-elected when his current term ends following the 2014 election cycle.

Perhaps Tobolski could be like Burke’s brother, Dan, a state representative, who has gone out of his way during his time in the Illinois House of Representatives to include himself in Latino Caucus activities so that he has a clue about what is happening “back home” in his district. Even though some activists view Burke’s activities as laughable and inadequate, I’ll acknowledge it as an effort.

The trick will be to see which officials will be willing to make the effort, and which ones will merely think that it is the “duty” of the new residents to adapt to the way that the old (and now, often, former) residents wanted things done.

Because if that turns out to be the case, then the political story of the 2010s is going to be the number of long-time politicos who got dumped by a growing Latino electorate interested in the new way of doing things – rather than hearing political stories about the “glory” days of the Daleys.


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