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City Council’s Progressive Caucus Flexes its Muscle
On a “good day,” they may have 15 aldermen. On a “bad day,” it might be as low as nine. In no case is it anywhere near the 26 votes they need to pass legislation in a City Council firmly in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s control.
The City Council’s Progressive Caucus needs more muscle to get attention and to get things done on issues ranging from hiring more police officers and opposing school closings and charter school openings to forcing airport contractors to pay a “prevailing wage” and stopping the city’s “increasing reliance on privatization” to generate revenue.
On Tuesday, seven aldermen stood together and announced plans to “formalize” their loose-knit organization by approving a set of bylaws, signing a “statement of principles” and forming a political action committee to accept donations to fund its operations.
The seven members appearing at the City Hall news conference were Aldermen: Bob Fioretti (2nd); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Toni Foulkes (15th); Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th). Two other “founding members”–Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ameya Pawar (47th)–couldn’t make it.
“This is not an anti-[Rahm] group. This is a group that wants to move the city of Chicago forward…Sometimes, you need that additional voice to make things go better,” Sawyer said.
Fioretti added, “Some of the principles that we embrace…are the same as the mayor would like to see working forward. But, how we get there is a different sea course. We are hearing across this city about frustrations–not only on the school closings, but privatization, lack of access [to] city services.”
Over the years, the City Council has had several mini-rebellions against strong mayors.
Under former Mayor Richard J. Daley, then-Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th) led a so-called “Coffee Rebellion” that won the Young Turks a seat at the table when decisions were made–and Vrdolyak a seat on the Finance Committee.
Under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, then-Ald. Jim Laski (23rd) forced the mayor to cut a property tax increase in half and cancel plans for a supplemental increase to finance a police contract.
The Progressive Caucus said it is working on plans to hire more police officers and a way to finance them to stop the gang violence that this week claimed the life of a six-month-old baby getting her diaper changed by her father in mid-afternoon on a Woodlawn street.
Several ordinances already introduced by Progressive Caucus members–to make privatization more difficult, establish an independent budget office and declare a moratorium on the opening of more charter schools– are still languishing in the City Council’s Rules Committee.
Several of those ordinances were sent to that traditional burial ground after two committees were called.
That just might be the group’s first target.
“In Rule 42, it states that, if there’s a conflict, it goes to Rules. At the next scheduled meeting, it’s supposed to be discharged out. Mine was there in November. This is March. It’s still there,” Sawyer said.
“The problem that we have is there’s no consequences for those [who] violate the laws in our chamber. It’s one of the reasons we should be getting together–not just us seven, but all of us. If it happens to me, it could happen to you.”
Hours later, ten aldermen with close ties to Emanuel called a news conference for Wednesday to announce plans to form their own progressive caucus. They include: Pawar and Aldermen: Proco Joe Moreno (1st); Pat Dowell (3rd); Will Burns (4th); Rey Colon (35th); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Michele Smith (43rd); James Cappleman (46th); Harry Osterman (48th) and Joe Moore (49th).