Make Laws, Not War

bill utter

BY Bill Utter

March 14, 2019

Public Affairs

Since February 26, the spotlight has shined brightly on the history-in-the-making runoff election between two African-American women who want to be Mayor of Chicago and move into the fabled fifth floor of City Hall. But after the April 2nd runoff election, it will be the occupants of the second floor at City Hall who will also make their own history.

The Council Chambers, where the 50 aldermen meet, has not been the scene of many great debates or legislative drama in recent years. Much of the action takes place three floors above, where the Mayor’s Office wields a heavy hand in shaping priorities. All of that is about to change.

The numbers tell the story. Five aldermen are not returning for another term. Three incumbents lost in the first round. Eleven aldermen were forced into runoffs after failing to get a majority vote. While it’s not likely that all 11 will lose, the City Council will not be the same.

Daniel La Spata, who defeated 1st Ward Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno in the first round of voting, told the Chicago Tribune about his mandate. “I think people are tired of aldermen who wait for the mayor to tell them how to vote and how to think,” he said.

The common refrain from many is to hark back to the days of “Council Wars” in the 1980s in predicting what lies ahead. But that misses the complexities of what is taking place with the changing makeup of the new City Council and the climate in the city overall.

“Council Wars” describes a volatile time when Chicago’s first African-American mayor Harold Washington took office and immediately faced a majority of the council organized against him. The battle led to a protracted and brutal war that stalled progress and left a very ugly mark on the city.

Today the story will be much more about groups of aldermen organizing around issues and priorities. Progressive, African-American, Hispanic and LGBTQ caucuses already exist and will be made stronger after April 2nd. Other alliances will undoubtedly form, shift, and form again.

How will the new mayor deal with an energized and assertive council? How effective will the council be in actually deliberating and legislating without an iron grip from above? Does this have to result in confrontation, or can compromise prevail?

Here’s hoping the messy stew that is democracy can thrive on both the second and the fifth floors of City Hall. There are too many serious problems facing Chicago to risk another war.

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bill utter

BY Bill Utter

March 14, 2019

Public Affairs