Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How “weak” will Mayor Lightfoot be?

It’s one of the big jokes that people like to point out when they discuss the structure of Chicago municipal government – we have a “weak mayor” system.
LIGHTFOOT: Will she be the boss?

Meaning its supposed to be the 50 members of the City Council who really dictate policy with the mayor being an administrative figurehead. A notion that is hilarious in that we usually expect our mayors to behave like political bosses and the aldermen merely serving as “rubber stamps” who sign off on what the mayor tells them to.

BUT IT SEEMS that we may get a change in the way our city government operates.

Lori Lightfoot will begin on Monday the four-year term to which she was elected last month. She’s already made it clear what her priority will be – she wants to do away with the concept of aldermanic privilege.

That concept is one of the underlying principles under which our city has operated for decades. It’s the one that says that when it comes to zoning issues and development that relate to a specific ward, the judgment of the alderman is to reign supreme.

If an alderman wants a project to be developed in his/her ward, the other aldermen are expected to side with his/her desires. It gives the aldermen that little bit of power that encourages them to go along with the desires of the mayor on larger-scale issues.

CONSIDERING THAT MANY aldermen think the neighborhood issues are the reason for their existence, it reinforces the idea that they’re political “bosses” within their own wards.

But Lightfoot made it clear throughout her campaign for mayor she hates the idea of aldermanic privilege. She sees it as aldermen acting like mini-dictators.

Not so much that they stand in the way of projects that would provide serious development to Chicago. But that it encourages aldermen to behave in ways that require business interests to cater to political whims.
How hectic will things get at 'da Hall' Photo by Gregory Tejeda
With some aldermen acting as though their political enrichment is the all-important concern.

ALMOST AS THOUGH aldermanic privilege is nothing more than legalization of political bribery – a concept that the one-time federal prosecutor in Lightfoot finds abhorrent.

It’s almost like she’s still thinking like a member of the U.S. attorney’s office in saying she wants to go after the source of so much aldermanic power and influence.

Lightfoot has said her first order as mayor will be one that eliminates the concept of aldermanic privilege. She says that the aldermen are going to have to think of the needs of the city as a whole.

She also points out that, having won a majority of the vote in all 50 wards, she thinks that’s evidence she has the public’s support – and that many people will be inclined to think that aldermanic objections to losing their privilege is just a matter of being deprived a perk they should never have had to begin with.

BUT ALDERMEN AREN’T about to give up their influence so quickly. We may wind up seeing them go out of their way to remind Lightfoot who the “boss” of Chicago politics truly is.
New friend in Ivanka? Photo provided by White House

Things could get ugly, particularly after Tuesday, when Lightfoot is expected to meet with the council to discuss the aldermanic privilege concept in greater detail.

It may wind up being that the aldermen need some consoling to get them to pipe down with their objections. Because it seems some aldermen are upset that much of Lightfoot’s recent mayor-elect activity has focused on trying to win over the enthusiasm of the D.C. crowd instead of catering to the aldermen. That photograph of 5-foot, 1-inch Lightfoot being towered over by 5-foot, 11-inch presidential daughter Ivanka Trump really turned off a whole lot of Chicago political people.

Because no matter how much Lightfoot wants to assert her authority over ego-overblown aldermen, she’s going to have to remember how much she’ll need them if she’s going to accomplish much of anything on issues – while Ivanka probably won’t have much of anything to say the next time that Donald Trump feels compelled to utter another of his tweets-from-a-twit against the concept of Chicago.


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