CITY HALL — A new website created by a grassroots group attempts to rate aldermen, based on their City Council votes, from a people's "champion" to a "rubber stamp" for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Grassroots Illinois Action launched the TakeBackChicago.org website this week. It rates aldermen on a "People's Score" on a scale of 100 based on issues like the $15-an-hour minimum wage, school closings and how often an alderman votes with or against Emanuel.
"Although a majority of City Council claims to support working families year after year, we have seen vital services cut, schools close and inequality grow," said Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Illinois Action.
Patel said there is "a clear need for a tool to help Chicago residents see which aldermen are really voting to support working families and which ones are allowing Mayor Emanuel to sell off our city piece by piece."
The Mayor's Press Office passed what it labeled a "political" issue to Emanuel's re-election campaign spokesman, Steve Mayberry, who declined to comment.
Katelyn Johnson, executive director of the grassroots group Action Now, decried what she called "the City Council’s rubber stamping of Mayor Emanuel’s corporate agenda" which, she said, "has hurt Chicago and devastated black and brown communities on the South and West Side.
"Our communities deserve elected officials who value residents' needs over corporate dollars. It's our hope that this new tool, our continued work and efforts across the city will hold our aldermen accountable to the working families they claim to represent," Johnson added.
The scores are weighted toward what's perceived to be "progressive" issues, and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) said it's no surprise that members of the Progressive Reform Caucus generally fare well.
"If it's favorable to me, it's good," Sposato, a member of the progressive group, deadpanned. "I think they were favorable to all the Progressive Caucus members, and that's a good thing."
Yet Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., who voted 100 percent with the mayor on key issues only to receive a 70 score and a ranking of "ally" as someone who "demonstrates some capability to act independently," also welcomed it.
"I guess it never hurts," Burnett said. "It never hurts to have criticism either way."
Burnett said many constituents already know how their alderman is voting on issues important to them. He said the site appears able to cut aldermen some slack on votes they seem compelled to make to back the mayor, even while working behind the scenes for compromises on other issues.
"A lot of times, you do things in here for your community," Burnett said. "Everything may not be popular, but you do it for your community, one way or another. So it's all about bringing the bacon home and taking care of your neighborhood. Sometimes you vote for stuff you may not swallow too well, but at the same time you're bringing some bacon home.
"That's the bottom line for me," Burnett added. "Judge me by what I've done for the ward."
Sposato said of the website creators: "All they're doing is exposing the rubber stampers" though "everyone knows who [those aldermen] are — it's no secret."
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who likewise voted 100 percent with the mayor but did not display Burnett's independence on other matters, earned a "People's Score" of zero and was labeled a "rubber stamp."
Others may also turn a jaundiced eye to the site, such as Ald. Joe Moore (49th) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who both earned scores of 30 to be labeled a "corporate follower" as someone who "frequently votes in the interest of corporations over everyday people."
"They actually have the scorecard wrong," Pawar responded. "I opposed school closings and supported teachers during the strike.
"I understand what they're trying to do," he added. "But they neglect to take the whole picture into view." Pawar said they "cherry pick" issues and "don’t take into account that I passed the anti-wage-theft ordinance, the [Tax Increment Finance] Accountability Ordinance, amended the Human Rights Ordinance to add credit history as a protected class, [while] they ignored the independent budget office, the licensure of debt collectors, the SRO moratorium and the sweat-free procurement ordinance.
"If these legislative efforts make me a corporate follower then so be it," Pawar added. "My point is this: I was elected with the help of a tiny group of incredibly committed friends. Nobody in the political establishment helped me. We got here on our own. I didn't get here with the help of the unions or corporate interests and so I don’t owe anyone anything. I work for my constituents and I am not interested in creating a political narrative or fit into one developed by someone else. I do what I think is right and will let the chips fall where they fall."
Nathan Ryan, communications organizer for Grassroots Illinois Action, said the site generally concentrates on actual council votes, not signing on to sponsor progressive legislation, because aldermen have found it's safe to support measures they know will be sidetracked to the Rules Committee, which has been described as a place "where good legislation goes to die."
Some issues locked in the Rules Committee include a proposed moratorium on charter schools and a proposal to make the inspector general the sole watchdog for all city employees, including aldermen and their staffs, currently overseen by the legislative inspector general.
The site hopes to not only influence City Council business, but also next year's municipal elections.
"It‘s election season, and many of the aldermen responsible for policies that have hurt so many families and devastated neighborhoods will be making promises and claiming to stand with our communities," Patel said. "Our goal is to show what aldermen are actually doing, and by doing so, help make our democracy better."
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