Chicago, you start with one
basic fact—there’s one all-powerful
mayor and 50 very
wimpy aldermen.

The aldermen on the City
Council, who represent the city’s
50 wards, are afraid of crossing
Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose
reelection for a sixth term is a
foregone conclusion (despite
ongoing federal investigations
into corruption in his
administration). Even
independents running against
Daley’s lackeys pull their punches:
they’ll savagely attack the
incumbent but tell you their
reasons for running have nothing
to do with the mayor.

Daley lets the aldermen control
the little stuff in their wards,
while he directs the big stuff—budgets, patronage, promotions,
construction projects, and
housing and education policy. The
mayor’s control of the big stuff has
been responsible, in recent years,
for the hideous rehab of Soldier
Field, the construction of the
vastly overbudget Millennium
Park, the destruction of a
municipal airport under cover of
darkness, the continued rise in property taxes, the overpriced and
much delayed Brown Line
reconstruction (which is causing
long delays on the Red Line), and
the Pink Line addition coming at
the expense of other services on
the west side, as well as sweeping
education and public housing
policy changes that allowed Daley
appointees to hold thousands of
kids back or kick thousands of
families out of their homes. All
took effect with little debate,
much less opposition, from the
rollover council.

In return the aldermen get to
decide which cafes get to hang an
awning, which blocks get to throw
a party, which home owner gets to
build a porch.

Recent events might suggest
the aldermen are coming around,
that they’re ready to have their say.
Don’t be fooled. True, the council
passed an ordinance banning
smoking in restaurants and bars,
but only after Daley watered
down the bill. And yes, the foie
gras ban slipped through over
Daley’s objections, but it didn’t
have much more significance than
the council’s resolution against
the war in Iraq.

Aldermen You Should Know

Watch Daley light up when Natarus rises to speak. He loves this guy, thinks his shtick
is hilarious. He also trusts Natarus to shepherd all the big downtown zoning deals
through the council.

MAYOR DALEY’S LEAST FAVORITE ALDERMAN: Ed Burke (14th). You’d think a couple of south-side Irish politicians would really get along, but Daley’s still
mad at Burke for running against him for state’s attorney way back in 1980. Daley
never drops a grudge.

(49th). Daley never really trusted Moore because he came from the organization of
Cook County Clerk David Orr, whom Daley always figured was against him. Now
Moore’s really irritating the mayor by introducing bills like the big-box minimum
wage ordinance.


It’s a close contest, but most would go with Danny Solis (25th). His Hispanic City
Council allies tease him about standing whenever the mayor enters the room. His deference
goes back to 1995, when Daley named him to fill the vacancy in the council
when Ambrosio Medrano stepped down after pleading guilty to taking $31,000 in
bribes from an undercover FBI mole.

We’re still waiting. | BJ

In fact, when the foie gras ban
passed by an overwhelming
margin in April, Daley’s opposition
was measurable only by a few
snickering comments to the press.
But on August 22, when it actually
took effect, it was a much different
story. Daley was up in arms over
the measure and looking to be
quoted. “It’s a silly law,” he sputtered.

“The silliest law they ever
passed.” He went on to assure
restaurant operators, already
openly defying the ban, that he
was in no hurry to enforce it.

What had changed? On July 26,
against Daley’s wishes, the council
passed the so-called big-box bill
by a large margin of 35 to 14
(Alderman Helen Shiller didn’t
vote). Some aldermen may have
fallen to the pressure of the
unions. Others may simply have
underestimated the mayor’s
opposition or figured he was too
distracted by federal investigators
to care much. Whatever the case,
they clearly stepped out of line.

Over the last few weeks, Daley’s
been reminding them where they
really stand. Not only did he join
the chorus mocking the foie gras
ban, he orchestrated a campaign to
overturn the big-box ordinance. He
held press conferences, rallied
business leaders, solicited
editorials—and then he played the
race card. “It was all right for the
north and southwest sides to get big
boxes before this,” he said at a rally
on the far south side. “No one said
anything. All of a sudden when we
talk about economic development
in the black community, there’s
something wrong.”

An angry father stripping
privileges from a rebellious
adolescent, he was letting the
council know that from here on
out nothing would pass without
his consent. Two of Daley’s closest
allies, Aldermen Burt Natarus
and Bernard Stone, said they’d
changed their mind and moved
to overturn the ban.

Obviously, the rest of the
council got the message too.
Three other aldermen flipped
(George Cardenas, Danny Solis,
and Shirley Coleman) and Shiller
came on board, killing any hope
the council had of overriding
Daley’s veto. The council’s
flirtation with independence
ended and things went back to
normal. Daley will let the
aldermen oversee neighborhood
permits, and he’ll control
everything else.

The real mystery is why
voters keep electing Daley and
the aldermen who serve him.
The standard explanation is that
we’re so grateful for the services
he gives us we’ll overlook his
shortcomings. But taxes have
been soaring and trains are
running late, and maybe the
voters are afraid of Daley too.
Not just afraid of what will
happen if they complain (you
can’t imagine how many times
ordinary citizens criticizing him
have begged me not to print
their names for fear of
retaliation). They’re also afraid
of what will happen if he leaves
office. “You think I would want
to leave the city in the hands of
these dummies?” a Bucktown
bar owner recently asked me.

He was, of course, speaking
of the aldermen. Then after
complaining about his alderman
he admitted he had voted for him,
donated money to his campaign,
and hung his election sign in his
bar. Hmm—who’s the real