The last of the Daley years
03/23/2011 10:00 PM
For the past four years, Mayor Richard M. Daley has had nearly complete control over the city council. But his power has waxed and waned. When the city council was first elected in 2007, dissent arose again but died down by 2009.
Since 2010 though, opposition to Mayor Daley has grown once again, and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will have even weaker control over the new city council when he takes over in May 2011.
On February 22, 2011, Chicagoans cast their vote for all 50 aldermen. Seven aldermen ran unopposed — leaving 43 seats contested by a field of 239 candidates. Generally, these seven unopposed aldermen were stronger members of the city council such as Ald. Edward Burke of the 14th ward.
Of the 43 contested seats, 25 of the incumbents won outright, one lost, and ten face a runoff election on April 5 because they were unable to secure more than 50 percent of the vote. In the February election, there were 11 seats vacated by former alderman who were retiring or moving to higher office — an unusually high number. Generally, they were among the most loyal aldermen supporting Mayor Daley. On average, they voted with the mayor on divided roll call votes 90 percent of the time. Only aldermen Toni Preckwinkle and Brian Doherty among the retiring aldermen voted 70 percent or less of the time with the mayor.
Two additional patterns emerged from the February 22 election. First, incumbents who chose to run were generally reelected. Second, nearly all independent aldermen, who most often opposed Mayor Richard M. Daley in the 54 divided roll call votes since 2007, also won reelection.
The most likely outcome of the runoff elections is that the seven most independent aldermen from the last council, such as Joe Moore (49th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd), will be joined by three or four additional independents, such as Michele Smith of the 43rd Ward. Nonetheless, the new 2011 council, like the compliant council of the Richard M. Daley years, will still be dominated by regular party “machine” Democrats. This is true even if the Republican Party manages to retain one seat from either the 41st or 45th wards which have the only Republican candidates running.
Between 2007 and 2011, aldermen voted with Mayor Richard M. Daley, on average, 88 percent of the time. Whether this level of subservience and limited dissent will continue in the new council is less clear. The faction supporting Mayor-elect Emanuel and the faction of regular Democrats who may be more loyal to Ald. Edward Burke (14th) have yet to work out a power-sharing arrangement. It is possible to imagine a three-way split in the council between Emanuel supporters, Burke supporters, and the independent bloc aldermen.
Those incumbents in the runoff elections voted with Mayor Richard M. Daley 83 percent to 100 percent of the time. In general, the more often the incumbent voted with the mayor, the more serious challenge he or she faced in a runoff election. Aldermen Rice, Solis, Thomas and Lyle all voted with the mayor 98 percent of the time, and saw their challengers receive from 20 percent to 28 percent of the vote in the February 22 election.
The success of union and community-backed candidates in the 2007 elections bolstered the hopes for a more “progressive” council. However, despite the increase in the number of independent voices in the council, the mayor was undefeated even when his policies like tax increases or the parking meter privatization were not popular with most Chicagoans.
Will the first post-Daley council revert to “council wars” or will it continue its “rubber stamp” pattern? The runoff elections will decide. Vote in wards where you are eligible. Contribute work and money in other wards to elect genuine legislators rather than mere echoes of the mayor’s voice. The post-Daley years require a less compliant city council.
For complete aldermanic voting records from 2007-2011, refer to the report at http://bit.ly/councilvotes