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Who Will Buy the City Council?

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Who Will Buy the City Council?
Jack Higgins
Who Will Buy the City Council?

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There’s going to be a runoff after the Feb. 22 election. The question is, will it be a runoff for control of the mayor’s office, or a runoff for control of the City Council?

If Rahm Emanuel wins a majority next week, he’ll spend some of his $12 million campaign fund in the still-undecided aldermanic races, attempting to buy himself allies on the Council.

There’s only one other politician in town with that kind of money. Ald. Edward Burke has a $6 million war chest, no opponents and an equally strong interest in the makeup of the City Council. Rumor has it that ambitious aldermen already are making phone calls, looking for support to succeed Burke as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee under the next mayor. We may have 15 to 20 new aldermen in May, so control of the Council is in play.

At Monday’s mayoral debate, Emanuel suggested he wants to replace Burke as Finance Committee chairman and take away his police detail.

“There will be reform of the committees. There will be some committees closed, chairmanships will change,” Emanuel said. “There will be a shared sacrifice, including for Ed Burke and all the City Council. If Ed Burke has six police officers, that just can’t continue.”

It's not going to be as easy as Emanuel makes it sound. As I’ve explained to several people who’ve become inured to executive omnipotence in Chicago, the Finance Committee chairmanship is not a mayoral appointment. It’s determined by the votes of 26 aldermen. Nonetheless, the mayor wants an ally in charge of the committee that controls spending. Burke held the job under Mayor Harold Washington, a political enemy. But he got it back when Richard M. Daley became mayor, and has held on to it ever since, with Daley’s sufferance.
 
To shore up his support, Burke has been doling out campaign contributions to his fellow aldermen -- even aldermen he’s feuded with. Last year, Ald. Ricardo Munoz ran a candidate against Burke’s brother, state Rep. Daniel Burke. This year, Burke gave Munoz $1,000.

If Emanuel doesn’t get 50 percent, Burke won’t have much to worry about. Emanuel will have to spend his money on winning the mayor’s race. And if Emanuel loses to Gery Chico? Then Burke really has nothing to worry about. In that case, the mayor will have to worry about how long the finance committee chair lets him serve.

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