Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that during his election campaign one of the leading gripes he heard from residents was that there are just too many aldermen. Chicago’s City Council has 50 members, while LA’s has just 15 and Philadelphia’s 17. In fact, among big U.S. cities only New York, which is almost three times as large, has a larger council—and it’s only larger by 1. Shrinking the body could save taxpayers millions of dollars a year, as the Better Government Association has found.
Aldermen, of course, say that’s fraught with risk. They note that constituents count on them to be accessible in ways that no other elected officials are—they get thousands of calls a year from people weighing in on issues or seeking help navigating the city service maze in search of new garbage cans or sidewalk repairs. Cutting back on their numbers, aldermen argue, would reduce citizens’ ability to use and participate in their government.
But there’s a counterargument too, and it’s based on the kinds of things I discovered in putting together a story on our city’s legislators for this week’s issue: aldermen are earning up to $110,000 a year to oversee administrative matters that other city departments also handle—things like sidewalk cafe permit applications and residential parking rules. Every one of these items requires a separate ordinance that the whole council has to approve. That adds up to about 1,000 ordinances a month.
When you see how it breaks down for each alderman, it’s not very pretty. You can click here for a spreadsheet showing the types of legislation sponsored by each alderman over the last five months. To see the actual legislation, go to the source, the City Clerk’s excellent new Legislative Information Center.