Aldermen Don't Get Elected to Be Mayor, and Other Inconvenient Truths

Mayor Daley’s challengers are chickening out.

All the alderman who were considering challenging Mayor Daley are deciding they’d rather just be responsible for one ward than all 50. Scott Waguespack, who was going to mount an independent, reform campaign against Daley, told the Chicago News Cooperative that “I am focused on securing this aldermanic seat.”

And Progress Illinois reports that Ald. Bob Fioretti is saying “a run at mayor of Chicago is not on his radar ‘today.’” Ald. Leslie Hairston, Hyde Park’s great independent hope, has called reports of her mayoral aspirations “greatly exaggerated.”

These alderman all know their place. While the City Council is a great platform for criticizing the mayor, it’s a terrible platform for a mayoral campaign. Name a mayor elected directly from the City Council. Richard M. Daley was Cook County State’s Attorney. Harold Washington was a congressman. Jane Byrne directed the city’s department of consumer affairs. Richard J. Daley was Cook County Clerk.

Representing a single neighborhood is no way for a politician to develop the citywide profile necessary for a mayoral run. It also doesn’t offer enough responsibility, especially in a city where the mayor makes all the decisions. In recent years, two aldermen have ascended to the job after the death of a sitting mayor. Michael Bilandic and Eugene Sawyer were both smaller-than-life mediocrities who were quickly dumped by the voters.

James Hutchinson Woodworth was elected mayor directly from the City Council. But that was in 1848, when Chicago was about the same size as Wilmette. An early double dipper, Woodworth simultaneously served on the City Council and the General Assembly. So even he was no mere alderman.

Since you can’t run for mayor and alderman at the same time, it makes no sense to give up a $110,000-a-year job for a symbolic campaign that’s guaranteed to fail.

Maybe Waguespack, Fioretti or Hairston will be mayor someday. But they’ll have to be something else first.

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