I never thought I’d live to see a Chicago Mayor tell Ed Burke to sit down and shut up. Nor did I ever expect to see a Chicago Mayor tell the members of the City Council that they would have a “voice but not a veto” in their wards. Her Executive Order restricting aldermanic privilege was issued in her first hours in office.
When Mayor Lightfoot told the press that she was elected to “get shit done,” she spoke true Chicagoese. No matter what neighborhood you live in, you heard her, loud and clear, and you knew exactly what she meant.
The Lady said reform, and she meant it.
She appointed Scott Waguespack as Finance Chair. The press reports that lots of other aldermen consider him a scold and a know-it-all. Good. Scold away. He’s always been one of perhaps ten aldermen who actually read and understand the budget documents received from City Department heads outlining how much money they need and what they intend to spend it on. Richie and Rahm never gave the Council the time needed to read, analyze, and discuss the budget requests.. I think Lightfoot will.
Pat Dowell replaces Carrie Austin as Chair of the Budget and Government Operations Committee. Lord help us, Debra Silverstein was appointed Vice Chair, even though her overall attendance at Council and committee meetings during her last term was only 56%, she skipped two-thirds of the budget meetings held especially for aldermen, and she hates working. I suppose this appointment is related to her background as a CPA. Any other reason escapes me.
Lightfoot is mulling over a new ethics ordinance that could give voters a real voice in elections. It would, for example, restrict union contributions to $1,500 per year instead of the current $57,800 allowed by the state. It would similarly cap contributions from corporations. Lightfoot said during the campaign that people “should not have to kiss the alderman’s ring” to obtain City services, so the ethics ordinance may well prevent aldermen like Silverstein from amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from unions and corporations with business before the Council. Many businesses in the 50th Ward contribute to Silverstein on a regular basis, and many new businesses contribute after opening. It smacks of pay to play, even if everyone denies that’s the case. For more details on the proposal, click here.
Many of the reform aldermen have been appointed to important committees. The Council may actually learn to engage in discussion before approving legislation. Most importantly, all Council and committee meetings will be live-streamed, so taxpayers can watch our elected officials working–or not.
A ProPublica Illinois analysis of legislation before the City Council from 2011-2018 found that less than 10% of the proposals dealt with budget, tax, or citywide issues, the majority of legislation being ward-specific for things like sidewalk cafes, awnings, and loading zones. Mayor Lightfoot has indicated that she wants the Council to focus on citywide issues and leave administrative matters to the proper City departments where such a mandate exists in the law. Actually, it isn’t necessary to call the alderman for routine City services at all. The new 311 form allows residents to deal directly with the City, thus freeing aldermen and their staffs to work on more important issues, such as, say, economic development.
Mayor Lightfoot has proved in her first ten days in office that Chicago made the right choice when it chose reform over machine.
There may be hope for the 50th Ward yet.