New Chicago City Council moniker: "Divided Council"

Date: 
04/28/2020
DickSimpsonUIC

Dick Simpson

"Council Divided" is what Chicago's 50-person City Council is named by former Alderman Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and his co-authors in a new report analyzing the voting patterns of the City's governing body.

The report slices the Council into four voting blocs: Center-Liberal, Progressive-Socialist, Conservative and Chicago Machine. 

"These four voting blocs pull and tug, pressure and push the Lightfoot administration but the mayor is able to cobble together and secure a working majority in the face of multiple crises from the city budget to the Covid-19 pandemic," Simpson said. 

LoriLightfoot

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

But, this is Chicago. When it comes to council votes, not all alderpersons vote with the bloc they are primarily identified. 

The four voting blocs consist of two ideological, three identity caucuses and two informal groupings or contingents. To make it more interesting, some Aldermen belong to two or more of these voting blocs, the report points out. 

The four voting blocs consist of five caucuses. Three are identity based: Black Caucus, Latino Caucus and LGBT Caucus while the Progressive-Reform Caucus and the Socialist Caucus are based on political ideology. 

The report points out that while historically there have been voting blocs in the council, formal caucuses are a recent phenomenon. 

Lightfoot rolled into office by winning all 50 Wards with 74% of the total vote. While she had no control over the selection of who was on which caucus or in each bloc, she did select the 19 committee chairs, who according to the analysis have aided her in her governance to date.

Table 1

            Aldermanic Support for Mayor Lightfoot in the City Council 2019-2020

Ward

Aldermen

% of Agreement

Ward

Aldermen

% of Agreement

8

Michelle A. Harris*

100%

19

Matthew O'Shea*

88%

10

Susan Sadlowski Garza*

100%

21

Howard Brookins*

88%

27

Walter Burnett, Jr.*

100%

31

Felix Cardona

88%

32

Scott Waguespack*

100%

42

Brendan Reilly

88%

36

Gilbert Villegas*

100%

49

Maria Hadden

87%

37

Emma Mitts*

100%

11

Patrick Daley Thompson

85%

44

Thomas Tunney*

100%

14

Edward Burke

85%

46

James Cappleman

100%

28

Jason Ervin

85%

48

Harry Osterman*

100%

29

Chris Taliaferro*

85%

12

George Cardenas*

97%

40

Andres Vasquez

85%

26

Roberto Maldonado

96%

47

Matthew Martin

85%

6

Roderick Sawyer*

94%

1

Daniel La Spata

82%

24

Michael Scott, Jr.*

94%

13

Marty Quinn

82%

34

Carrie Austin*

94%

17

David Moore

82%

43

Michele Smith*

94%

23

Silvana Tabares

82%

50

Debra Silverstein

94%

25

Byron Sigcho-Lopez

82%

7

Gregory Mitchell

93%

30

Ariel Reboyras+

82%

2

Brian Hopkins

91%

33

Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez

82%

3

Pat Dowell*

91%

35

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa

82%

16

Stephanie Coleman

91%

38

Nicholas Sposato*

76%

22

Michael Rodriguez

91%

45

James Gardiner

76%

39

Samantha Nugent

91%

20

Jeanette Taylor

75%

18

Derrick Curtis

90%

41

Anthony Napolitano

67%

4

Sophia King

88%

9

Anthony Beale

64%

5

Leslie Hairston

88%

15

Raymond Lopez

26%

 

Chicago City Council Mean

87%

Chicago City Council Median

63%

*Chair of Standing Committee

+Chair of Special Committee

As Table 1 shows, of the 50 aldermen on the council, 23 voted with the mayor 90% or more of the time. Of those 37 who did not, only six have voted with the mayor less than 80% of the time. 

The report shows the breakdown voting by blocs:

The Center-Liberal Bloc is closely aligned with Mayor Lightfoot and has enabled her to win every one of the 34 contested issues that the council has voted on. This is largely because majorities in the Black Caucus and the Progressive Reform Caucus—the two largest caucuses in the council—support Lightfoot an average of more than 87% of the time.  

However, some caucus members voted against Lightfoot on the budget, marijuana legalization and the request for temporary emergency powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This bloc also includes some members of the Progressive Reform Caucus and aldermen who do not belong to any caucus. 

Support for the Mayor by the members of the Progressive Reform Caucus ranges from 100% to 75% and the mean average is 87%. 

Lightfoot has also benefited from exceptionally strong support from the aldermen she chose as chairmen of the council's 19 committees. Of those 19 chairmen, eight voted to support Lightfoot's positions 100% of the time, and the other six support her more than 90% of the time, Some of chairmen are members of the one or both of these two large caucuses.   

The Progressive-Socialist Bloc includes the six Socialists aldermen and some progressive aldermen who are not part of Socialist caucus. 

Support for the Mayor within the Socialist Caucus ranges from  85% to 75%, with a mean of 81%. While the Socialists Caucus doesn't have the political strength to pass its agenda, its criticism of Lightfoot’s policies has altered the political debate in Chicago. 

Also, there is evidence that by working as a cohesive group, individual aldermen have felt supported and thus were willing to take more radical positions. 

The Chicago Machine Bloc includes aldermen who are either stalwarts of the Chicago Machine or are "associated" with that once powerful organization. The word “associated” is appropriate because no politician today wants to belong to a caucus labelled "Machine". That word connotes an organization steeped in patronage, cronyism, and corruption.  

As a group, members of the Machine Bloc have only 68% support for Mayor Lightfoot, the lowest average percentage of any of the blocs. 

The Conservative Bloc includes aldermen who oppose Mayor Lightfoot’s social liberalism and spending priorities. The three members of this contingent identify as Independents or conservative Democrats. They espouse moderate to conservative political positions and they would likely be members of the GOP if the Chicago Republican Party was capable of rivaling the Democrats. 

Despite their political similarities and tendency to vote together, they are not organized into a formal caucus. The three members of this bloc have supported Mayor Lightfoot only 73% of the time. 

Conclusions
"Chicago has had a long tradition of machine politics and rubber stamp city councils. With the election of Mayor Lightfoot, this tradition is slowly ending," concludes the report. 

"Mayor Lightfoot can't command the same degree of uniform support that some previous mayors could. By scuttling Aldermanic prerogative and pushing numerous good government reforms, she has transformed the relationship aldermen have with the mayor. 

Previously the mayor would allow aldermen to control permits in their wards in exchange for supporting the mayor’s broader objectives. The mayor can no longer use the threat of taking away an alderman’s control of licensing and ward services to extract votes on the administration's broader issues. 

While the age of rubber stamp city councils is on the decline, this does not to automatically guarantee that the Chicago City Council will become a legitimately representative body. So far, it has formed into ideologically coherent factions, but as in “Council Wars”, competing groups do not necessarily mean better representation. 

Instead, Chicago will have to make a conscious and intentional effort to renew democracy in the city in order to have real representation. An independent and responsive city council is a critical step in that process. 

From Rubber Stamp to A Divided City Council City Council Report #11, co-authored by Dick Simpson, Marco Rosaire Rossi and Thomas J. Gradel is available on line.


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