You are hereThe Aldermen
On May 21, 2007, eight new aldermen were officially sworn in to Chicago's City Council, bringing with them hope for the emergence of a new era of responsibility.i Although the new generation does show signs of challenging the Council's reputation for corruption and compliancy-six out of the eight aldermen vote with Mayor Richard M. Daley less than 74 percent of the time-a number of issues continue to darken the reputation of the Council. Among these include the lack of divided roll call votes, a need for more government accountability, continuing charges of corruption, and questions surrounding campaign financing. Ultimately, Chicago aldermen have a responsibility to advocate for their constituents and conduct their affairs in an independent, transparent and democratic manner. On the whole, our government has yet to provide the accountability between the legislative branch (City Council) and the executive branch (City of Chicago) that is expected of a democratic government.
In the days preceding the election of the Richard M. Daley administration, Chicago City Councils reported between 50 and 100 divided roll-call votes per year. A divided roll-call refers to a vote in which at least one alderman votes against the majority. As reported in the 2006 DGAP report, between 2003 and 2005 there were 29 divided roll-call votes out of the more than 4,000 pieces of legislation, inspiring some political experts to label City Council as a "lame-duck". The situation improved between June 13, 2007 and June 20, 2009; there were 23 split vote issues documented in the two-year time frame, the most recorded under Mayor Daley's almost twenty year tenure in office.iiThe increase in divided roll-call votes provides hope, or at least skeptical optimism, that the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches can strengthen.
The current Council has undoubtedly inspired more debate than the past. Fourteen aldermen have voted for Daley's ordinances less than 80 percent of the time, and an Independent Caucus began to meet in 2007 order to discuss the city budget.iii It is currently unclear which aldermen participate in the Caucus-twenty were asked to join in 2007-and whether it continues to meet regularly. The most outspoken members included senior aldermen Toni Preckwinkle, Joe Moore, Scott Waguespack, and Ricardo Muñoz.iv
In 2007, 17 aldermen voted with Daley 100 percent of the time and 13 voted with him approximately 95 percent of the time.v In this way, although the increasing debate within City Council defies the Rubber Stamp trend of the 2003-2007 assembly, the 2007 assembly has yet to prove itself as capable of successfully challenging the lack of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches. The Independent Caucus had momentum, but unless it regains its inspiration, Chicago residents may be left in the dust.
In addition, the Council has not proved to have defied the culture of corruption that previously defined Chicago politics. From 1972 to 2007, twenty-eight aldermen or former alderman were convicted of corruption charges.vi In 2009, the number rose to twenty-nine. On May 28, 2009, Alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers was indicted on federal fraud and bribery charges for accepting $40,000 in home improvements, meals, and sporting tickets from developer Calvin Boender. In exchange, Carothers supported a zoning modification that sold Boender Chicago's largest undeveloped tract of land, a 50-acre rail yard and industrial site located in the 29th ward.vii Carothers, a long-time supporter of Mayor Daley, pled guilty on February 1, 2010 to the charges, immediately vacating his aldermanic seat. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison for his cooperation, half of the lowest possible sentencing guideline, and must pay $17,773 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and forfeit $40,000.viii
The charges filed against Carothers exemplifies the way in which Chicago aldermen are still not immune to corruption, and indeed sit on one of the most corrupt City Councils in one of the most corrupt cities in the country. Patronage, bribery, and coercion continue to affect politics. Between 2007 and 2009, for instance, two aldermen resigned or retired from their posts: Billy Ocasio of the 26th Ward and William J.P. Banks of the 36th. Mayor Daley rejected Ocasio's request to appoint his wife and instead confirmed Roberto Maldonado as the new alderman. William J.P. Banks request to appoint John Rice, his aide and driver since 2005, was accepted.ix There are now two unelected aldermen sitting on City Council.
As highlighted above, in order to achieve transparency and accountability in Chicago politics, aldermen must also be responsible for forming a check on corruption within in the Daley administration, a task it has yet to perform. In March of 2009, Mayor Daley was forced to acknowledge the rampant hiring abuses within his administration after his former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner, Al Sanchez, was convicted on four counts of mail fraud.x Reaction by the aldermen was minimal, and there is little proof that the system has changed as a result of the ruling. In addition, the Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics-a process riddled with accusations of bribes and corruption-received 100 percent approval by the City Council.xi The seemingly unnoticed corruption in both the City Council and the Office of the Mayor points to a widespread lack of checks and balances within Chicago government.
There have been efforts to fight corruption on a city-wide level, however. In March of 2009 Alderman Joe Moore introduced an ordinance to grant additional power to the office of the Inspector General, particularly regarding its ability to investigate all allegations of impropriety launched against aldermen, their offices, and City Council committee staff members. The ordinance also provides the Inspector General's office greater independence from other government offices and a longer term of office, thus increasing transparency and accountability to the public.xii Although the ordinance did not come to fruition, on February 10, 2010, Mayor Daley introduced his own measure to allow the Inspector General to investigate aldermen, citing a loss of confidence "after the Carothers issue."xiii Aldermen, however, are skeptical that an investigator appointed by the Mayor would prove to be objective, and it is doubtful that the measure-as written by the Daley administration-would pass City Council. "A member of the executive branch should not be investigating the council. It could be used as a political tool against the council," said Alderman Bernie Stone (50th), echoing Alderman Leslie Hairston's belief that "those of us who disagree with the mayor, our staffs and ourselves would be subject to harassment."xiv Alderman Moore notes that the Mayor's proposal does not include a budget increase for the Inspector General's office, calling it an "empty gesture." xv
On the flip side, there have been increasing efforts to monitor the practices of the Daley administration. Following the controversial privatization of parking meters, Aldermen Joe Moore (49th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) proposed the "Asset Lease Taxpayer Protection Ordinance" in October of 2009. If passed, the ordinance would require the Daley administration to notify the City Council when it first considers leasing a city asset, hold public hearings before the Council votes, and allow for a third-party to evaluate the proposal.xvi The Asset Lease ordinance illustrates yet another attempt to establish additional checks and balances on the office of the mayor, and yet another ordinance that was introduced and has yet to pass.xvii
City Council has succeeded in increasing transparency around the issue of TIFs. In February 2009 Aldermen Manny Flores (1st) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) introduced the "TIF Sunshine Amendment" designed to increase TIF transparency. Fundamentally, it requires the Daley Administration to put documents related to TIF expenditures on the internet, including projected and actual spending for TIF projects and developer report summaries. As the first major TIF reform, Alderman Flores and Waguespack sought to shed light on the nearly $555 million annual slush fund that is formed each year from the insufficient monitoring of TIF funds.xviii On April 22, 2009, the City Council unanimously passed the TIF Sunshine Ordinance, and on July 31, 2009 the Department of Community Development announced that the TIF website was available for viewing. However, controversy surrounds the TIF ordinance and abuses continue against the less-than-stringent ordinance. In October of 2009, for instance, allegations emerged that the Office of the Mayor was continuing to publish two budgets-one available for public scrutiny and one for internal use-and still refuses to put many TIF-related documents on the internet. Additionally, the internal budget outlines plans to use TIF funds for private development deals that require consent from the City Council.xix The deceit indicates two trends: the Daley administration is continuing to conduct its corrupt practices in spite of the "TIF Sunshine Amendment", but now it has something to fear in City Council.
Finally, although the City Council voted unanimously to approve the 2016 bid for the Olympics in spite of opposition among community groups, in September 2009 Alderman Manny Flores (1st) spearheaded an alternative Olympic Oversight Ordinance significantly stricter than that proposed by Mayor Daley. In it, the Office of the Inspector General would be required to submit audits of the Olympic organization, all employees making more than $50,000 would have to offer complete financial disclosure, and there would be quarterly reports documenting all costs and expenditures related to the Games.xx Although Chicago was ultimately eliminated from the Olympic bid process, the ordinance passed with overwhelming support within City Council and again demonstrates the desire of new members of City Council to introduce and gain support for greater transparency within city operations. On the other hand, several community groups and members of the DGAP network worked with Alderman Manny Flores to include a community oversight component within the ordinance, but the measure was not approved by the Finance Committee. The Olympic Oversight Ordinance marked a positive step, but until residents and community groups are respected as experts in their neighborhoods, questions remain surrounding the true extent of democratic participation and government accountability.
One important, and previously ignored, issue of accountability and transparency continues to surround the discussion of campaign financing. In October of 2009 the Illinois state legislature began work on a new campaign finance law, motivated by the arrest of Rob Blagojevich.xxi However, financing issues throughout 2007 and 2008 continue to play into the subject of corruption.
For instance, a study from 2001 to 2006 revealed that city workers have donated or offered loans in substantial amounts of money to the aldermen they serve. Excluding aldermen themselves, city workers gave $2.2 million to aldermen and other ward organizations, while aldermen offered themselves another $466,000. The most extreme case was found in the 28th ward when Emma J. Robinson, chief of staff for Alderman Ed Smith, gave her boss $37,049.68 in interest-free, personal loans. Particularly among city workers, issues arise when campaign money is exchanged for favors, even if it is never expressed explicitly. The majority of issues regarding corrupt city job hiring originate in the Streets and Sanitation Department, which was the highest donating group of any recorded department at $479,657.26.xxii
Furthermore, in January of 2007 the Chicago Tribune reported that black aldermen receive significantly less campaign contributions than their white and Latino counterparts; of the more than 103,000 campaign contributions collected between January 1999 and March 2006, 20 black aldermen raised $11.3 millions, less than half of the $26 million collected by 24 white aldermen and only $2.5 million more than 11 Latino aldermen.xxiii The disparity begs the question of which aldermen businesses are funding, in which wards, and why.
An analysis of the 2007-2009 Chicago City Council reveals hope for change coupled with a need to recognize the continuing corrupt practices and lack of accountability and transparency in Chicago politics. Although select City Council members have begun to strengthen the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches, the road to government accountability and transparency remains a long one.
The following pages paint a picture on each of the fifty alderman and how they voted on key divided roll-call votes, where they received their campaign contributions and the city council committees in which they participate. The aldermanic information on these pages allow for an analysis of each alderman to determine whether he/she is a part of the solution, or a part of the problem. It is crucial that the information is used to hold each alderman accountable to protect the rights of all Chicagoans and create a government that is transparent, accountable and democratic.