As soon as I read about Bill Daley’s call for a referendum on reducing the city council from 50 to 15 aldermen, I had three questions: Would it pass? Would I vote for it? And what does this have to do with ratgate?
In short, the answers are: yes, not sure and…don’t get me started!

Okay, let’s take a deeper dive…

First, would it pass?

Yes! Chicagoans have a schizophrenic attitude toward aldermen. They despise the full council, but like their individual alderman.

How else to explain how we bitch and moan about every dumb, rubber-stamping thing the council does, and then turn right around and re-elect the folks who voted for the dumb, rubber-stamping things. On the grounds that—hey, man, he returns my calls.

So passing a council-cutting referendum would be the easy way of doing what most Chicagoans are apparently too loyal or afraid do on an individual basis—throw the bum out!

Problem is—I’m not sure such a referendum would make the ballot. As we’ve learned from former Governor Pat Quinn’s mayoral term-limit fight, this is really hard.

It takes 50,000 or so good signatures from registered voters—Quinn spent the better part of last summer in the rain, sleet and heat, collecting over 80,000 signatures to get the term-limit question on November’s ballot.

Then Mayor Rahm brought in his lawyers to challenge the matter on the grounds that you can’t have a binding referendum, even a legitimate one, if the mayor’s already packed the ballot with three frivolous advisory ones. As the mayor had done.

November’s election came and went and Quinn’s still in court fighting with Rahm’s lawyers to force the city to, at the very least, release the results of that referendum.

In short, it takes a strong and resourceful political operative to get a binding referendum on the ballot. Bill Daley’s fit that order—but I’m not sure his heart is into it.

Yes, he called for such a referendum, but he stopped short of promising to do the hard work of actually collecting the signatures.

He was more like—if someone else does the work, I won’t block their efforts by stuffing the ballot with meaningless advisory questions. You know—like Rahm did.

My guess is that calling for the referendum was Daley’s way of distancing himself from the Machine legacy of his father and older brother—as though he could fool a few voters into thinking a guy named Daley was actually a reformer. By any means necessary, as they say.

Now the question is—would I vote for it? Well, in contrast to other cities, we sure have a lot of aldermen. New York City has 51, but they have a population of over 8 million. So it works out to about one alderman for every 169,000 residents.

Los Angeles has 15 council members—with a population of over 4 million, that’s one for every 266,000 residents. In Chicago, we have 50 aldermen—earning at least $117,000—for 2.75 million, or one per 55,200 residents.

Cut 35 aldermen and you’d free up enough money to reopen at least one of the six mental health clinics the aldermen closed per Rahm’s request, speaking of bad rubber-stamping council votes.

On a side note, we didn’t always have 50 aldermen. Over 100 years ago, we had 60. I know this because of a recent conversation with the aforementioned Pat Quinn, who knows just about everything about Chicago (and Illinois) political trivia.

“Until 1917 we only had 30 wards, but each ward had two aldermen,” says Quinn. “You remember 1917, don’t you, Ben? I think you were a cub reporter for the Reader back then.”

Oh, that Pat Quinn—he’s a regular Mrs. Maisel.

So would I vote to cut the council?

Well, I’m not really feeling pro-alderman right now. Let’s see, we’ve got one alderman (Willie Cochran) facing trial for allegedly taking a $3,000 bribe from a local liquor store owner. Another (Ed Burke) indicted on charges of trying to shake down a local Burger King vendor. And a third (Rick Munoz) charged with domestic violence for allegedly grabbing his wife and throwing her into a staircase.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, along comes the bombshell in Wednesday’s Sun-Times that Alderman Danny Solis was wearing a wire and secretly taping conversations with Burke as part of the FBI investigation.

Even worse was the reaction of other aldermen. They were madder at Solis than they were at Burke, as Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman discovered when went around the council gathering quotes.

Like this one from Alderman Matt O’Shea: “Where I come from, if you wore a wire, someone’s gonna kick your ass.”

And Alderman Rod Sawyer: “If I was caught doing something wrong, I’d just take my punishment and deal with the consequences.”

And Alderman Jimmy Conway: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”

Actually, Jimmy Conway’s not really a Chicago alderman. He’s the gangster played by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas. But really, these days, what’s the difference? I mean, the aldermen sound like Donald Trump calling Michael Cohen “a rat” after Cohen testified against the president.

Look, I’m not saying Solis is an angel—obviously, he’s wearing the wire in exchange for a lighter sentence for whatever the FBI caught him doing wrong. But for better or worse, he is part of a fight to root out corruption.

And let me tell you—Ed Burke is pretty damn corrupt. To cite just one example, he was representing Sterling Bay as part of his second job as a property tax lawyer, while using his influence as chairman of the council’s finance committee to pass a TIF deal that would underwrite Sterling Bay Lincoln Yards development with about $900 million in property taxes. (Thanks to the Sun-Times for breaking that scoop).

I’m not sure if it’s against the law for the chair of the council’s finance committee getting paid to win a tax break from the same developers who are coming to the alderman for a $900 million property tax handout—but it ought to be.

So, at the moment, I’m like—hell yes, I’d vote for that referendum.
On the other hand, well…

Over the summer, we had an infestation of real rats—big ugly things scrambling through the backyard. In desperation, I called my alderman—Ameya Pawar—to say: Help!

He had his aide call my wife and give her the direct number of the guy at the city in charge of getting rid of rats (no, it wasn’t Alderman O’Shea).

Within a couple of days, the city put out some traps and poison and we haven’t seen a rat since.

So should I be so grateful that Pawar helped facilitate a service the city should be providing anyway? No, but I am. Even if Ameya spent the better part of his first term acting like Rahm’s rubber stamp, I appreciate having a guy in city hall.

You know, I’ve lived here so long, I’m starting to sound like a real Chicagoan.