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Study Finds Little Independence on Chicago City Council

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Study Finds Little Independence on City Council

A new study of aldermanic votes under Mayor Rahm Emanuel answers the question, “Who’s the real opposition on the City Council?” Last month, independent aldermen organized themselves into dueling caucuses: the Progressive Reform Coalition and the Paul Douglas Alliance, named after the former 5th Ward alderman and U.S. senator. 

The Paul Douglas Alliance, whose number one goal is abolishing the Legislative Inspector General, was immediately dubbed the “not-so-progressive coalition.”
 
It’s certainly not as independent, according to “Continuing the Rubber Stamp City Council,” a study by Dick Simpson and Melissa Mouritsen Zmuda of the University of Illinois at Chicago political science department.
Members of the Progressive Reform Coalition voted with the mayor on 73 percent of divided, or non-unanimous, votes. Members of the Paul Douglas Coalition voted with him 92.5 percent of the time. (The votes of Ald. Patrick O’Connor, the mayor’s floor leader, and Ald. Ed Burke, the Finance Committee chairman, were considered the “administration line.”)
 
The study found that Emanuel “got even more support than Daley” from the City Council, singling out two aldermen whose support for Emanuel was significantly higher than their support for Daley: Ricardo Munoz of the 22nd Ward, who went from 65 percent to 87 percent, and Joe Moore of the 49th, who “almost reversed himself completely” by going from 51 percent to 97 percent. Both were aiming for higher offices: Munoz for Clerk of Circuit Court and Moore for director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Munoz is a member of the Progressive Reform Coalition, Moore of the Paul Douglas Alliance.
 
From the study:
 
Aldermen claim that they voted more often with the mayor because Mayor Emanuel was more willing to compromise with them than Mayor Daley had been. When aldermen pushed back on cuts to staff and library service hours in the 2012 budget battles, the mayor agreed to reduce the cuts. Or when the rules for NATO Summit protests were too draconian and aldermen objected, the mayor made the rules less restrictive. So some aldermen argue that they vote with the mayor more often because they are able to work out compromises behind the scenes.

Yet, in two years since the mayor and the city council were sworn in, there have been only 30 divided roll call votes. The number remains at about the same level as under Mayor Daley at about two a month. Historically, the number of divided roll call votes has ranged between 50-100 a year and peaked at 387 divided votes during Mayor Eugene Sawyer’s two years in office during the chaos that which followed Council Wars from 1987-1989. 
 
If there is a middle ground between Council Wars and subservience, the City Council hasn’t found it.

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