Meet the new guy
A look back at new South Loop Ald. Will Burns' record, and how he got here
01/25/2012 10:00 PM
Ald. Will Burns isnít a complete stranger to South Loop.
Between 2008 and 2010, he represented the 26th District in the Illinois General Assembly, a district that stretched from Gold Coast to South Shore neighborhoods, moving through South Loop along the thin sliver of land east of Michigan Avenue.
But state representatives donít have nearly the same impact on Chicagoansí day-to-day lives as aldermen. And since the recent ward remap put Burnsí 4th Ward into the parts of South Loop, Burns has became more relevant than ever before.
Burns has been involved in politics since 1996, when he served as then-State Sen. Barack Obamaís community outreach coordinator. Burns then went to work for Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., moving up the ranks until he became the Deputy Chief of Staff.
When Obama won the 2004 U.S. Senate elections, Jones wanted Burns to replace him. Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) led an effort to appoint Kwame Raoul instead. Since then, Preckwickle became one of his most steadfast supporters. When she won the Cook County presidency in 2010, she asked Mayor Daley to appoint Burns in her place.
However, Burns declined the appointment, preferring to earn the position in the election. He faced off against five other candidates ó most notably, the Republican Lori Yokoyama ó and won the election with a 64 percent margin.
The 4th Ward is one of the more economically diverse wards in the city, encompassing the northern section of upper middle-class Hyde Park, the largely middle-class Kenwood, the lower-income Oakland, and the mixed-income developments that are being built in place of public housing complexes and eastern parts of the gentrifying Bronzeville. Burns sought balance the needs of all of those constituents by advancing policies that, according to the ward website, would increase economic opportunities and help attract quality commercial and residential development.
As the state representative, Burns supported the repeal of the death penalty, stronger gun control laws and a green jobs program that targeted low-income areas. He also supported the property tax reforms and stronger campaign finance laws.
As an alderman, Burns joined the Reform Caucus his predecessor helped to establish and sponsored a number of reform initiatives. Those include:
- An ordinance that would establish the Procurement Oversight Committee to scrutinize city purchasing contracts Ė a task that is currently left entirely to the City Council.
- The Responsible Bidder in Service Contracts ordinance, which would increase scrutiny over bidders for city janitorial, security and window washing contracts.
- An ordinance that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of credit history and gaps in employment history.
- Responsible Budget Ordinance, which would take the surplus funds from all TIF districts and return them to schools, park and other public organizations that would normally receive them.
- An ordinance that would reduce the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana from six months in jail and a $1,500 fine to a $200 fine and ten hours of community service.
As of this writing, those ordinances are either being held in committee or await City Council vote.
Burns voted for the ban on the sale of synthetic marijuana and indicated his support for the prohibition on the sale of synthetic cocaine. He voted for an earlier curfew for children under 18. Burns voted to extend the deadline for the enforcement of the Life Safety and High-Rise Ordinance ó an ordinance that would require the installation of sprinklers and other safety measures in buildings that were built before 1975 and were taller than 80 feet.
He was among the aldermen who helped to pass the controversial ordinance that would make banks more accountable for the vacant properties they own. Burns sought to strengthen the ordinance by requiring banks to post watchmen at the vacant buildings near schools while the schools are in session. The amendment is currently held in committee.
Burns was among the aldermen who sponsored a series of amendments for 2012 budget appropriations that included an increase in funds for the condominium refuse rebate (from $4.1 million to $7 million). He voted to increase grants for housing preservation (from $1 million to $1.3 million), workplace service organizations (from $2,964,081 to $2,994,081) and community organizations that aid the homeless (from $79,753 to $96,858 per agency).
Most recently, Burns was one of the four aldermen to vote against the controversial protest ordinance and an ordinance that will allow Mayor Emanuel to bypass the City Council in approving contracts for G8 and NATO meetings.
The new ward maps arenít scheduled to go into full effect until 2015.