Independence Days For City Council

The news:

In February, the Chicago City Council honored the 100th birthday of former alderman Leon Despres, who’s known for his independence against the late Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Behind the news:

Decades after Despres’ tenure on the council, aldermen still vote with the mayor most of the time. But there’s a sign of new independence, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of aldermanic voting records and mayoral proposals.

Of the 446 ordinances that current Mayor Richard M. Daley proposed in 2007, 400, or 89.7 percent, passed unanimously. Five proposals either are in committee or have failed, the analysis shows. The remaining 41 proposals passed as “substitute ordinances,” or slightly altered versions.

Most of the proposals are routine housekeeping issues, said Paul Green, director of The Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University. It’s by studying “divided roll call” votes, in which at least one alderman opposes the proposed ordinance, that aldermanic independence can really be assessed, he said.

No documents indicate Mayor Daley’s position on any given divided roll call votes as he does not vote on the council. But in his 2006 study, Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, gauged the mayor’s position by studying voting records of 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke, the chairman of the finance committee on the council.

Simpson found that, of the 29 divided roll call votes between May 2003 and November 2006, 37 of 50 aldermen voted with Burke more than 80 percent of the time. Only one, 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, voted with Burke less than 50 percent of the time.

The Reporter analysis of 13 divided roll call votes since the new aldermen were sworn into office in May 2007 shows that 35 aldermen voted with Burke more than 80 percent of the time, while six aldermen voted less than 50 percent of the time.

Despres believes more aldermen will emerge as independent legislators, in part because they must win re-election without patronage. “The signs of life should begin to appear shortly,” he said. “I’ll be looking for it.”

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