MORGAN PARK — The mayor steered clear of a new proposal to cut the City Council in half, but a prominent alderman said, "No" to the reduction in no uncertain terms.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel originally suggested the possibility of cutting the council from 50 members to 25 while on the campaign trail in 2011. But after Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Ameya Award (47th) brought the idea up again in a Sun-Times article this week, the mayor wanted no part of it at a Morgan Park news conference Tuesday.
"As I said when I ran for office, no arena of government will be immune to reform," Emanuel said, adding, "We have made a series of changes to how the City Council operates."
Emanuel pointed to how council committees were slashed, and the addition of the inspector general and legislative inspector general, as well as his more recent support for an independent budget office.
"Now a number of City Council members want to cut the City Council in half," Emanuel said. While saying he would continue to push for council reforms in his budget to be presented in October, he did not suggest that would be one of them.
Yet Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who attended the same news conference trumpeting the advances of a Morgan Park youth jobs and mentoring program, was eloquent in defending the council as is.
"It would be detrimental," she said of cutting the council in half. "It would be detrimental to the people because they wouldn't get the same kind of service."
She said doubling an alderman's constituents, from the current average of about 59,000 to more than 100,000, would mean some requests and other important business would get lost in the shuffle.
"Any alderman that's worth their salt can't get to the ones they have now," she said. "I have a community meeting every month, and I can't get to everybody."
Chairman of the council Budget Committee, Austin said any financial gains would be "modescule," — coining a word between "modest" and "miniscule" — because aldermen would have to add staff to deal with twice the ward activity.
Emanuel pointed out that cutting the council would have to be approved in Springfield, although Chicago voters could also vote it in if it were to be put on the ballot. "The voters would have to suffer the consequences of the choice that they made," Austin said.
Asked about critics who might suggest she's just trying to save her own job, Austin responded, "They can have mine."