- Al Podgorski/Sun-Times
- Alderman Joe Moore (right) has become a reliable backer of Mayor Rahm Emanuel—and says that’s a good thing.
Alderman Joe Moore was enjoying an Amstel Light when I arrived at the bar the other night for our beer summit. Clearly, the first thing we would have to agree to disagree on was our choice of beverage.
“Hey, it’s a light beer that’s actually drinkable,” he said.
If you say so, alderman—and Rahm’s a reformer too! But more on that in a second.
In the meantime, I asked for a Revolution.
We had agreed to get together because we hadn’t really talked in ages—not since Rahm Emanuel had reached out to him during the 2011 mayoral campaign, and Moore had then invited the new mayor-elect to stop by a 49th Ward meeting.
This was a striking development. Since being elected in 1991, Moore had been one of the chief City Council critics of former mayor Richard M. Daley.
And not long before Emanuel took office, the alderman urged his council colleagues to stop being rubber stamps. “The City Council is the only legislative body in the Western world that acts like the Soviet Politburo,” he told the Tribune.
But Emanuel declared his interest in a “partnership” with Moore, and the alderman has gone from reliable mayoral critic to reliable mayoral supporter—though some have described it with more colorful terms.
Moore helped the mayor slow the push for an elected school board, defended Emanuel’s version of the parking meter deal, and voted for all of his budgets. In fact, he sided with the mayor on 98 percent of all divided council votes, according to professor Dick Simpson and the poly sci wonks at UIC.
“A rubber-stamp ‘no’ vote is just as bad as a rubber stamp ‘yes’ vote,” Moore said before calling out “aye” for the 2015 budget in November.
But surely there’s another side to the story, and who better than Moore himself to offer it?
I’m happy to report that the alderman was as friendly and funny as ever—though that was never the issue.
Our conversation went something like this, with some gulps of beer worked in:
MD: To lots of people, it looks like you’ve gone from being a mayoral critic to a mayoral suck-up—to put it politely.
JM: Well that’s based on a false paradigm: you’re judged a reformer based on how many times you vote no. That may have been a valid measure 20, 30, or 40 years ago, but it’s not now. On each and every issue you could raise, I can defend it on solid progressive principles.
MD: OK. Let’s start with Rahm himself. Why, Joe?!
JM: I’m supporting him because I believe he’s had a far more progressive record of accomplishment than the previous mayor, and he’s been more progressive than many of my friends in the progressive community give him credit for, starting with the battle against political patronage. The Shakman decree was routinely ignored, ultimately requiring the federal courts to put a monitor in place. Rahm was able to convince them he was serious about reforming city hiring. Monitoring and the court decree were lifted.
MD: But Rahm doesn’t need patronage armies—he can just raise millions of bucks from his rich friends.
JM: Well Daley was no slouch in raising money! He didn’t need [patronage organizations] either. He was raised in a culture where patronage was as normal as breathing. Rahm was not part of that culture.
MD: But Rahm was first elected to Congress with patronage workers!
JM: I would say that life is not without its ironies.
MD: What was progressive about closing mental health clinics?
JM: That was based on discussions with people in the mental health field who felt the citywide mental health system was seriously deficient—that the city would do a better job for uninsured people if it gave private organizations the ability to service insured patients. More people are now served and more services are offered.
MD: Didn’t Rahm also promise to hire more police?
JM: I’m not going to defend him on his Bill Clinton-like parsing of the issue. But no elected official, including me, is going to say that in a perfect world we couldn’t use more police officers. But we’re not in a perfect world. Chicago has more police officers per capita than New York City or Los Angeles, and both have lower rates of violent crime. The issue is less the number of officers than how they’re deployed. How can we be more effective? How can we build trust in the community?
MD: You’re being challenged by Don Gordon, who pushed you into a runoff in 2007, and possibly by one other candidate. Will your support for Rahm hurt you?
JM: Voters are much more concerned about ward-specific issues and services. Does it have some effect? Probably. But I don’t think it’s politically crippling. A poll I’ve just taken shows that I’m running very strong, though it’s no secret I’ve been an ally of Rahm’s.
MD: Will you be helping Rahm’s campaign at all?
JM: Most of my energy is going to be focused on getting Joe Moore elected.
MD: You’ve been in office for 24 years. If you win, will this be your last term?
JM: I’m not saying it is and I’m not saying it isn’t.
MD: As long as you’re taking a stand.