Illinois 4th District
Just west of the Loop, the Chicago River splits into North and South Branches, both penetrating the heart of old neighborhoods where immigrants got their start. The South Branch is the guts of Chicago, the site of one of Western civilization’s astonishing engineering feats. In 1900, the course of the river was reversed so that sewage flowed downstate through a canal rather than out into Lake Michigan. Just blocks away was Maxwell Street, then thronged with market stalls and long the arrival point for Chicago-bound Jews. Not far away, in an Italian-American neighborhood on Halsted Street, was Jane Addams’s Hull House, the original settlement house, where social workers instructed new immigrants on adapting to American life. To the south were Pilsen, arrival neighborhood for the Bohemians (Czechs), and the Irish neighborhoods along Archer Avenue. To the north was Milwaukee Avenue, the main street of Polish-Americans and Ukrainian-Americans.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Today, many of these places are arrival neighborhoods again, mostly for Chicago’s wide variety of Hispanic immigrants. On the South Side, in the old river wards, is Chicago’s Mexican-American community, extending west into Pilsen and into the once Bohemian suburb of Cicero, famous as a haven for Al Capone’s mobsters in the 1920s. This is the largest community of Mexican-Americans in the nation outside California. On the gentrifying North Side are many Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics. In the 1990s, Chicago’s Hispanic population increased from 545,000 to 754,000, by far the largest Latino concentration north of Texas and Florida and between the two coasts and not all that many fewer than the 1.1 million African-Americans in Chicago. By 2005, the city population was almost 30% Hispanic. Spanish-language radio stations have become a local political force.
The 4th Congressional District of Illinois is a Hispanic-majority district created in 1992. With the South Side Mexican-American areas and the smaller North Side Puerto Rican communities separated by the West Side black ghetto, the solution was the creation of one of the most bizarrely shaped congressional districts in the country. Essentially these two Latino communities, defined by careful boundaries to maximize the Hispanic percentage, are connected by a thin line of territory stretching around the black-majority 7th District to meet at the Cook-DuPage County line. The district is sandwiched between the 5th District to the north and the 3d District to the south. It is shaped something like a pair of earmuffs. More than 95% of the votes are in Chicago or Cicero. The 2001 redistricting raised the Hispanic share of the district population to 74% (75% of these are Mexican; 10% are Puerto Rican). Even so, because many have not become citizens and some who have do not vote, Latinos may be only a bare majority of the electorate. The community has sought to increase turnout, which is about half that in nearby black-majority or suburban districts.