A new analysis of City Council voting patterns shows that Mayor Daley was able to exert his power over the council during his last term in office, in spite of some more critical aldermen.
Dissenting perspectives on Chicago's City Council over the last four years were limited to a handful of aldermen, a new analysis of council voting patterns finds, allowing outgoing Mayor Richard Daley to press his agenda with huge voting majorities.
"The Last of the Daley Years," a report released this morning by University of Illinois-Chicago political science Professor Dick Simpson and his staff, tracks how often the city's 50 aldermen split from the Daley administration's priorities. The report only measures aldermanic agreement or disagreement with Daley on divided roll call votes, where at least one council member cast his or her ballot against the executive branch's position on an ordinance before the council; it does not judge the contents of an ordinance or resolution.
Daley's power to keep aldermen by his side increased over the last four years versus the previous council term. "The 2003-2007 city council voted with the mayor on average 83% [of the time] and the current 2007-2011 city council has voted with the mayor 88% of the time," the report says. The mayor lost no votes over the past four years. He never used his veto power to reject any council-driven ordinances.
Both councils, Simpson told Progress Illinois, still must ultimately still be judged as "rubber stamps."
That assessment comes in spite of the "best efforts of the fledgling independent bloc" and several first-time aldermen who defeated staunch Daley supporters in the 2007 municipal elections with major support from organized labor (including SEIU, whose state council sponsors this website). Simpson's report calls that effort dramatic but ultimately mixed in terms of restructuring how city government operates.
"A number of aldermen, even some backed by unions and community organizations, didn't consistently oppose the mayor," he said today.
Still, it was several of the first-time aldermen -- including Alds. Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward), Sandi Jackson (7th Ward), Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), and Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) -- who joined incumbents Joe Moore (49th Ward), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), and Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward) in voting against the mayor the most.
All seven voted with the Daley administration less than 70 percent of the time on the divided votes over the past four years, with Moore, Fioretti, and Jackson voting with Daley the least -- 51, 52, and 53 percent of the time, respectively. (Preckwinkle, of course, has since left the council to lead Cook County government.)
Just one member of the 2007 freshman class of aldermen, Waguespack, and four incumbent council members in late 2008 rejected the Daley's administration's parking meter privatization, which gave Chicago Parking Meters LLC control of the city's meter system through 2084 in exchange for about $1.1 billion.
"You have to remember the context. The mayor at the last of the budget sessions said this was necessary to balance the budget," Simpson said of the meter deal. "There were only about two or three days between its introduction and its passage ... many of the aldermen felt they were hoodwinked."
For a number of council members, particular issues moved them in or out of Daley's camp. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) voted with Daley on 73 percent of the divided votes, but said no to the meter lease. Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward) voted with Daley 96 percent of the time but departed from Daley -- and many of his colleagues -- in pushing for passage of the Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance. (Sweet Home and the Clean Power Ordinance have never been allowed to come up for a full council vote.)
Other council activity -- like an education committee hearing about Chicago Public Schools' controversial school closings policies initiated by 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell -- were not covered in the report.
In all, though, aldermen representing 31 out of the council's 50 ward voted with Daley 90 percent of the time or more on contentious issues during the 2007-2011 period.
Simpson, who served two terms as alderman of the 44th Ward in the 1970s, thinks Chicagoans pay a price for council subservience to the mayor's office.
"You need the legislature to be a check and a balance against the executive, to keep the executive from making huge mistakes," he said. "You need the legislature, particularly in times like these, to offer independent ideas about what ought to be done for the city. The aldermen generally are not introducing legislation. Only a handful produce legislation ... which means we have many fewer ideas to choose from."
Looking ahead, Simpson's report acknowledges it isn't exactly clear how the new council will align. The report posits that "a three-way split in the council between Emanuel supporters, Burke supporters, and the independent bloc aldermen" is possible.
A key in determining that will be the results of the run-off council elections voters will decide on in 14 wards on April 5. Both Emanuel and Burke are making donations to candidates in the run-off elections, the Chicago News Cooperative reports, and labor has made its picks for the second round of voting as well.
"Ideally from those elections, there should be three, four, or five independents, which would make for a more substantial independent block in city council," Simpson said.