Is the city council really ready to show its independence?


Elected leaders thrive on exercising authority. But in Chicago, the aldermen ceded their powers for decades without much of a fight.

They have become accustomed to green lighting anyone the mayor chooses to sit on city council committees and, more importantly, lead them.

Because mayors have handpicked their allies for chairing committees, dissent is not commonplace. Mayors set the agenda for the most part, including when to meet and how voting on issues will take place, as former Inspector General Joe Ferguson told City Hall reporter Fran Spielman of the Sun Times.

Basically, as most Chicagoans know: whatever the mayor wants, he usually gets.

This scenario could easily change. City council members are not powerless. They can choose who they want on the committees and who should lead them. State law and city ​​rules – Rule #36 – state clearly that they have this power. They just always backed off and gave the mayor their blessing to do their bidding.

“It’s always been like that,” Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36)e) was briefed after his election in 2015 and wanted to make sure he would end up on a committee that dealt with infrastructure, his area of ​​expertise.

But Chicagoans don’t have to accept the status quo. Our state and federal government does not operate that way. It’s fair to ask tough questions about why Chicago — the only major city that allows the mayor to dictate committee chairs, according to Ferguson — is allowed to operate this way.

If politics continues as usual, an independent city council simply cannot exist.

“Allowing the mayor to appoint committee chairs cedes substantial power from the legislature to the administration,” as the Association for Better Government Bryan Zarou said recently. Zarou urged city council members to take back what is theirs by exercising their power to appoint committee heads without the two hundred of Lori Lightfoot – or anyone else elected mayor.

Such a decision would represent progress not only in making the board more independent, but also in holding it accountable for doing what its job requires.

Villegas said he doesn’t see any change happening until a charter is passed in Springfield that gives city council members the ability to select a chair or speaker who can facilitate the process for members to choose. their own leaders.

And as Dick Simpson, a former city councilman and retired professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told us, that can only happen if there is a “desire for more.” independence”.

We will be able to measure whether the municipal council is ready for this independence when it votes on the Ald resolution. Matt Martin (47)e) proposed last week, calling for his promotion from vice president to chair of the Ethics and Government Oversight Committee.

Martin would, it seems, be the natural choice. He worked closely with Ald, the now retired chairman. Michele Smith (43rd) and knows the ins and outs of the committee and its most pressing issues.

But Lightfoot is not ready to give up his power.

“There’s a process by which we do that, and the process is that the mayor makes the final choices,” Lightfoot said when asked about Martin’s resolve. “I see no reason to break with this long-standing precedent.”

But breaking with precedent and taking back the control that is rightfully theirs is a step Council members should seriously consider if they are serious about shedding their buffer image and opening up the democratic process.

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