An Electorate of One - NBC Chicago
Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

An Electorate of One



    Jason Ervin says he’s qualified to be the next alderman of the 28th Ward because, as Maywood Village manager, “we placed an oasis in the food desert of Maywood whereby we developed a new full service grocery store.”

    Timothy Cullerton wants to be 38th Ward alderman because “my late father, Thomas W. Cullerton, represented the Citizens of this Ward as their alderman from 1974 until his death in 1993.”

    In both cases, these candidates are courting an electorate of one: Mayor Richard M. Daley. Chicago mayors were granted the authority to appoint aldermen by a 1978 state law. Before that, alderman who died, retired or got caught taking bribes for driveway permits were replaced in special elections.

    Daley has employed his appointment power nearly three dozen times since taking office in 1989, using it to build a compliant city council that almost never defies him. When you owe your job to the mayor, you’re likely to do the mayor’s bidding. Only one Daley apointee has ever been defeated in an election for a full term: 49th Ward Ald. Bob Clarke, who lost to Joe Moore in 1991. Moore has been a pain in Daley’s ass ever since. Just this week, he tried to organize a special council meeting to approve three ballot referenda Daley hates: hiring more cops, re-doing the parking meter deal, and taxing LaSalle Street.

    Imagine the president of the United States had the power to fill vacancies in the House of Representatives and the Senate. That would be an outrageous breach of the constitutional separation of powers. A president could stack Congress with legislators who would never override his vetoes. That’s essentially what Daley has done, but Chicagoans are so unused to the idea of the city council as a separate, co-equal branch of government that nobody questions the process.

    Appointing aldermen helped facilitate the one-man rule of the Daley years. But now that we’re about to get a new mayor, many Chicagoans also want a new kind of mayor, one who collaborates with the council, rather than shoving legislation down its collective gullet. Had there been more debate over the parking deal, we might not be racing out of bars at 8:30 p.m. to feed our meters. Let’s start that change by stripping the mayor of the power to appoint aldermen.

    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!