A Door to Change
January 29, 2019
Three political events have converged that may finally bring change to the way the Chicago City Council carries out its business, and perhaps update the infamous “Chicago Way.”
First is this month’s indictment of Ed Burke, the City’s longest-serving alderman, and one if its most powerful as head of the Finance Committee – although that last part is now over. Not that aldermanic perp walks, and even convictions, are rare. More than 30 Chicago City Council members have been tied to corruption cases since the 1970’s, and during the ten years I covered or observed the political beat for public radio, no fewer than eight aldermen ended up behind bars. It all seemed so…normal.
Burke’s legal problems were apparently given an assist by Alderman Danny Solis, who reportedly was wearing a wire while discussing, um, presumably city zoning and finance matters and who knows what else. At last week’s City Council meeting, some of their colleagues expressed shock – not at the alleged corruption (Solis reportedly agreed to the wiretapping after a federal investigation into him) but at the fact that Solis would agree to turn on his elected brother-in-arms.
- “You just don’t do that.”
- “If you wear a wire, somebody will kick your ass.”
- “I thought we were all partners.”
To be fair, many aldermen didn’t respond with quotes from a James Cagney film. The progressive caucus, and others, are calling for City Council reform. So are good government groups, other elected officials and mayoral candidates. About those latter, these events have of course arrived smack in a wide-open race for mayor and several are swept up in Burke’s world – Toni Preckwinkle and Susan Mendoza in particular.
What’s a Chicago voter to do? The engagement box is already checked. We recently helped a coalition led by LISC with a mayoral forum that attracted 1200+ people on a snowy Saturday and forums across the city are showing similar turnout. Forty-six of the incumbent aldermen also have challengers on the ballot, and all mayoral and aldermanic candidates should be asked where they stand on City Council reform that currently include these ideas and more:
- Term limits
- Limits on outside employment
- Reduction of City Council size
- A ban on an alderman’s right to unilaterally control zoning in their ward
- Inspector General oversight
As we head into what may well be another tawdry chapter of Chicago-style corruption, there’s a door open to change that can improve the way our government works. Doors close fast, though, so heads up!
January 29, 2019