If there was any hope that changes in the City Council would led to more independence, it was squelched by a series of comments offered by alderman Carrie Austin of the 34th Ward.

In an interview with Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman, Austin made no secret of her desire to replace former alderman William Beavers (Seventh Ward) as the head of the council’s budget committee, a position her late husband, former alderman Lemuel Austin, also held.

Among her credentials Austin, the new head of the council’s black caucus, cited her “longevity and loyalty to this administration.”

Trouble is, the City Council’s supposed to be the check that balances the mayor. If Austin had any backbone she’d be lining up the aldermanic votes she needs to be budget chair with or without Daley’s blessing. And then she’d use her chairmanship powers to act as fiscal watchdog on how the city spends billions of property tax dollars.

In reality, of course, chairing the budget committee is a plum position not because of its fiscal oversight but because of the jobs the chair gets to fill in exchange for staying blindly loyal to Daley.

Come to think of it, we don’t even need the budget committee, considering there’s already a finance committee chaired by another mayoral loyalist, alderman Edward Burke (14th). If you recall, the budget committee emerged out of Council Wars, as former Reader staff writer Gary Rivlin explains in Fire on the Prairie, his book about Mayor Harold Washington. In 1986 black aldermen wanted Burke removed from the chair of finance because, as alderman Dorothy Tillman put it, “Why show a racist like Burke an ounce of sympathy or respect?” But 48th Ward alderman Marion Volini countered by insisting that Burke keep his chairmanship on the grounds that in her lakefront community he “is seen as the only thing between Washington, tax increases, and widespread cronyism.”

So now we have two rubber-stamp committees looking the other way while Daley does what he wants. And of course lakefront voters–out of apathy, idiocy, and all-around cluelessness–rewarded Daley with more than 70 percent of the vote in February’s municipal election, even as the CTA collapses. I guess Volini had it wrong: lakefront voters really don’t care about tax hikes and cronyism (PDF)–not to mention essential city services–so long as it’s Daley and not Washington who’s  mayor.