Sucking up to Mayor Daley is as much a part of being an alderman as hiring your cousin to work in the ward office, or parking your Lexus in the City Hall garage. But it didn’t necessarily impress the voters in last month’s elections. According to a study by the University of Chicago-Illinois’s political science department, the Council’s seven most independent alderman were all re-elected on Feb. 22, while many Daley loyalists had a tougher time, especially in minority wards. That could result in a more independent council.
“In general, the more often the incumbent voted with the mayor, the more serious challenge he or she faces in the runoff election,” according to the study, co-authored by former alderman Dick Simpson.
The Council’s most independent alderman? The 49th Ward’s Joe Moore, who voted with Daley only 51 percent of the time. Moore was re-elected with a 72 percent landslide. Aldermen John Rice, Danny Solis, Freddrenna Lyle and Latasha Thomas “all voted with the mayor 98 percent of the time, and saw their challengers receive from 20 to 28 percent of the vote.”
Daley’s support has been slipping since he forced the parking meter deal through the Council, failed to win the 2016 Olympics for Chicago, and saw his public approval rating drop to 35 percent. Nonetheless, he never lost a vote in Council during the last four years. In spite of the mayor’s unpopularity, the Council remained a “rubber stamp.”
Whether this level of subservience and limited dissent will continue in the new council is less clear. The faction supporting Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and those regular Democrats who may be more loyal to Alderman Edward Burke (14th) have yet to work out a power-sharing arrangement. Thus it is possible to imagine a three-way split in the council between Emanuel supporters, Burke supporters and independent-bloc aldermen.
The study also predicts that the next Council will include three or four more independent aldermen. As a result, “Mayor-elect Emanuel will have even weaker control over the new Chicago City Council...The election of a new mayor -- despite his ties to Daley -- will not automatically be able to rely on the same level of support as his predecessor.”
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