What Trash Pickup and Politics Have in Common

Last year, when Mayor Richard M. Daley proposed removing the street sweeper from every ward superintendent’s garage and cleaning the streets based on a grid system, aldermen objected.

As 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz pointed out, “housekeeping is one of an alderman’s main roles. Aldermen needed control of a sweeper, because if the streets are dirty, the alderman, not the mayor, gets the blame.

The aldermen lost that battle, as they lost every battle with Mayor Daley. Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to go a step further, by reassigning trash pickup on a grid system. By dividing the city into 33 equal-sized pickup zones, the city can save $60 million, the mayor says.

The best argument for switching to grid-based trash pickup comes from the aldermen themselves. The ward map they drew in 2001 was not designed for the convenience of garbage truck drivers. It was designed to re-elect sitting aldermen and preserve the racial balance on the City Council.

Consider the 2nd Ward, where a truck would have to drive all the way from 35th and Calumet on the South Side to Francisco and Washington on the West Side to complete its rounds. Or the 40th Ward, where a truck has to detour around Rosehill Cemetery to get from one end to another. The wards were designed to facilitate political careers, not municipal services.

Of course, reducing garbage pickup to 33 zones may also be another of Emanuel’s ways of saying we have too many wards. Obviously, aldermen aren’t happy about that. 

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