An Independent Streak | Politics | Chicago Reader

An Independent Streak 

South Loop voters gave Second Ward alderman Robert Fioretti the power he needed to knock off a Daley-backed incumbent.

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The South Loop has historically been a neighborhood without a political identity. In other parts of the city, neighborhoods are closely identified with their political geography. Rogers Park has long been part of the independent-minded 49th Ward on the far north side. On the far south side, Beverly is known as the heart of the 19th, the base of the South Side Irish. And Bridgeport, the home of mayors and the center of Chicago clout, is always, always, always in the 11th.

The South Loop, though, has typically been dominated by power players from afar—when it hasn't been a total afterthought. Chicago's political mapmakers have regularly rejiggered borders, passing the South Loop from ward to ward as expediency demanded, and as a result it's never had much of an influence on city politics.

But that's changing. In last year's runoff election for Second Ward alderman, South Loop voters gave Robert Fioretti the boost he needed to topple the Daley-backed incumbent, Madeline Haithcock. "The South Loop was big for me, but it's still an emerging political community," says Fioretti. "It doesn't have a complete identity. Put up a high-rise and that's a new community in one block that wasn't there a year ago."

The South Loop's great wave of residential development didn't start until the 1980s. At that time, it was part of the notorious mob-run First Ward, whose alderman, Fred Roti, eventually went to jail for taking bribes.

click to enlarge Robert Fioretti
  • Robert Fioretti

But every ten years the City Council redraws the city's 50 wards, ostensibly to guarantee they each have roughly the same number of residents. Generally the mayoral operatives who oversee the redistricting allow aldermen a say in shaping their wards to help them keep their seats. In some cases, the mayor has maneuvered to keep developing areas in the hands of allies.

Roti left the council in 1991, and in the next remap the South Loop was swallowed up by the 42nd Ward, represented by the avuncular, bombastic, developer-friendly Burt Natarus. But in the 2001 redistricting it was placed in the Second Ward, mainly to protect Haithcock, a loyal, prodevelopment Daley ally. Gentrification was attacking her base in black south-side communities like Bronzeville, so, working on the assumption that black voters anywhere would vote for Haithcock because she's a black woman, the city council's mapmakers added a long swath of the west side to the Second Ward. The South Loop became a bridge between the ward's south and west side halves.

As a result, the ward map looks like the dog chewed on it—it's a jagged, asymmetrical collection of neighborhoods running along South Michigan Avenue from 31st to Jackson and cutting west all the way to Sacramento. It may be one of the most schizophrenic wards in the city: west of Ashland it's poor and working-class blacks; to the east it's filled with white professionals.

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