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How Far Can an Alderman Go in Politics?

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How Far Can an Alderman Go in Politics?
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As Ald. Ricardo Munoz attempts to leave the City Council for the countywide job of Clerk of the Circuit Court, it’s worth asking, “Just how far can an alderman go in politics?”

Let’s look at Chicago’s most powerful politicians, and the offices that gave them their starts:

  •  President Barack Obama: state senator
  •  Rep. Danny Davis: alderman
  •  Rep. Jan Schakowsky: state representative
  •  Rep. Mike Quigley: county board member
  •  Rep. Bobby Rush: alderman
  •  Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr: Jesse Jackson’s son
  •  Rep. Luis Gutierrez: alderman
  •  Rep. Dan Lipinksi: Rep. Bill Lipinski’s son
  •  Sheriff Tom Dart: state representative
  •  Mayor Rahm Emanuel: congressman
  •  Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: alderman
  •  House Speaker Michael Madigan: constitutional convention delegate
  •  Attorney General Lisa Madigan: state senator

As we can see, alderman is an established stepping stone to the United States House of Representatives: three of Chicago’s seven congressmen were once alderman. Dan Lipinski is the heir of an alderman who became a congressman, allowing his son to skip the City Council on the way to a national governing body.

Beyond Congress, though, former aldermen become scarce. An alderman has a better chance of going to prison than becoming mayor, senator or governor. The last former alderman elected mayor in his own right was William Dever, in 1925. Aldermen Michael Bilandic and Eugene Sawyer were appointed to the job after mayoral deaths, but neither was able to hold onto the office. Paul Douglas is the only ex-alderman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. And no former alderman has ever become governor of Illinois.

This is because aldermen don't carry the best reputations, so members of the City Council aren’t seen as fit to occupy more statesmanlike offices. Paul Douglas was able to slip into the Senate because he represented Hyde Park, the city’s lone good-government ward.

As for the fact that no alderman has gone on to lead the state of Illinois, it may be time for that to change. Now that Rod Blagojevich has been convicted, the City Council can argue that its criminal record is no worse than the governorship’s.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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