Mar 30, 2022 - Politics

Chinatown's role in 11th Ward politics

Chinatown Chicago
A view down Wentworth Avenue in Chinatown. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Nicole Lee was confirmed this week as Chicago's first female Asian-American alderperson.

Why it matters: In the wake of ex-Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson's conviction, Lee's appointment to the 11th Ward seat occurs less than a year before the official aldermanic election.

  • And that has many speculating about future contenders for the powerful office even before Lee casts her first city council vote.

The intrigue: The ward — which will likely be remapped as a majority Asian one that includes parts of Chinatown, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, and Brighton Park — represents a complex mix of people and interests.

  • For more than a century, Chinatown had non-Chinese alderpeople who were often Irish, Italian, or Latino.
  • A Chinese leader, often dubbed "the Mayor of Chinatown," acted as a liaison between city officials/services and the community.
  • So having an Asian American officially representing Chinatown offers a big change.

State of play: The area's Chinese Americans range from fourth-generation families to brand-new immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and different parts of mainland China, creating a wide array of interests and political views.

  • Local leaders say top issues include social services, public safety, and education, which Lee has also emphasized as her top priorities.

Zoom in: A unique issue is the area's opposition to aggressive casino marketing.

Between the lines: While Lee will have the incumbent's advantage in next year's election, her appointment by Mayor Lori Lightfoot may not work in her favor. Many constituents are upset with Lightfoot over crime and education.

  • Plus, it's also unclear how robustly the Asian-American community will show up at the polls, given their traditionally weak turnout.
  • The first Asian-American Illinois General Assembly member, Rep. Theresa Mah, tells Axios that in order to win in 2016, "I had to quintuple Asian-American turnout for my race."
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