Will Emanuel’s city council become ‘fully functioning’?

9 Mar

By Jennifer Schanz

With the mayoral drum roll of Feb. 22 behind us, Chicagoans and a rookie pool of alderman are looking to the mayor-elect to see what City Hall changes, if any, will be made.

Even before Rahm Emanuel was elected, hints of deep cuts to the budget, shifts in the city council power structure, a plan for Chicago’s struggling public school system and new union pension expectations were alive and well, among other things.

Nine aldermanic incumbents weren’t even on the ballot, meaning City Hall will have at least that many new members, perhaps more, as 14 city council races wait to be determined in April’s runoff. In short, City Hall will undoubtedly look different. What now remains on council members minds, is will it be any different?

With two decades of a largely submissive city council under Mayor Richard M. Daley as a foundation, Emanuel, despite his noted abrasiveness, has stated he is looking to build a new relationship between the mayor’s office and the city council.

According to Barbara Guttman—treasurer for 43rd Ward Ald. Vi Daley, with a largely fresh picked team of city political players—Emanuel couldn’t have chosen a better climate to do so. “You have this perfect collision of a new mayor and a new city council. A perfect storm,” Guttman said.

Guttman also notes an aldermanic desire for a fully functioning legislative body, especially from those newly elected. “Some new alderman will be looking at City Council much less like a group that is ruled by the mayor, the old city council was subservient to the mayor.”

Caitlin Allen of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development in Chicago, also observes the long held ladder of commands in city council. “Chicagoans are accustomed to a certain way of politics, essentially having a ‘boss’ in office,” she said. “Chicagoans observe some parochial traditions in a sense because powerbrokers are revered for their power—both with voters and in Council chambers.”

What about the promises that Emanuel has made? From the city’s fiscal crisis, to public safety and education reform, does he have the time to get his ducks in a row before he settles into the office on the fifth floor?

Guttman would argue that he does. “[Rahm Emanuel] has plenty of time to decide upon some things seeing as how he doesn’t take office until May.”

That’s time he will need to use wisely, with a long list of city to-dos, ranging from his pledge to put 1,000 more policeman on the street to his promise of reigning in more city jobs.

“The first 100 days of Emanuel’s office will set the tone for his tenure so it’s likely that he’ll push for an aggressive response to some hot campaign issues,” said Allen. “Appointing CPS and Police chiefs will also help set the tone to the agenda his office will pursue.”

With about three months before his agenda is actually put to the test, the Emanuel spotlight has just been traded in for a microscope.

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