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City Council Is Still 'Rubber Stamp' for Rahm, Voting Study Suggests

By Ted Cox | December 9, 2014 11:15am
 UIC Professor Dick Simpson, a former maverick alderman, says the City Council is more in lockstep with the mayor than ever before.
UIC Professor Dick Simpson, a former maverick alderman, says the City Council is more in lockstep with the mayor than ever before.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — A new study of City Council voting practices shows most aldermen act as a "rubber stamp" for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but credits the Progressive Reform Caucus for being most resistant to the mayor's positions.

"Although his support has slipped slightly, Mayor Emanuel still presides over a very compliant 'rubber stamp' city council," said the study's lead author, Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political-science professor who served as 44th Ward alderman and "conscience of the council" from 1971 to 1979. "Despite louder and more organized opposition, Emanuel still hasn't lost any council votes."

The study issued Tuesday, "Rahm Emanuel's Rubber Stamp City Council," follows up on a similar study issued early last year.

 Aldermen John Arena and Bob Fioretti led resistance to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the City Council, according to a new study.
Aldermen John Arena and Bob Fioretti led resistance to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the City Council, according to a new study.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

The new study, which focused on the past 18 months after the first addressed the first two years of Emanuel's term in office, found that, for 37 divided roll-call votes, Emanuel's side amassed 89 percent of all aldermanic votes, down only slightly from the 93 percent charted in the first study.

At 90 percent overall, Emanuel still has stronger City Council backing than the 88 percent Mayor Richard M. Daley amassed in his last term, or the 83 percent Mayor Richard J. Daley amassed in his first term, in the mid-'50s, or even the 85 percent approval he won at the height of the "Boss" era in the early '70s.

The study found that only aldermen John Arena (45th) and Bob Fioretti (2nd), of the Progressive Reform Caucus, voted less than half the time with the mayor, Arena at 43 percent and Fioretti at 45.

Fioretti is running against Emanuel in the mayor's race in February's municipal election.

The two aldermen were also behind what the study cited as the only two measures to draw double-digit opposition to the mayor's favored position in the 50-member council: an Arena proposal for a referendum on an elected school board and a Fioretti proposal to free Tax Increment Finance district funds for Chicago Public Schools, both of which took place in the same council meeting in November 2013.

At the time, Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), Emanuel's floor leader, tried to shame the maverick aldermen by comparing the debate to the "Council Wars" days in which he was one of the 29 aldermen under Ald. Ed Vrdolyak (10th) opposed to Mayor Harold Washington in the mid-'80s.

The study cited how Progressive Reform Caucus aldermen voted with the mayor about 70 percent of the time. After Arena and Fioretti, that included aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd) at 54 percent, Nicholas Sposato (36th) at 66 percent and Leslie Hairston (5th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Toni Foulkes (15th), all between 79 and 87 percent.

The study drew contrasts with the self-proclaimed progressive group the Paul Douglas Alliance in the council. Its members voted with the mayor 90.9 percent of the time.

The study, co-written by UIC graduate researchers Beyza Buyuker and Melissa Mouritsen, was issued with an eye toward the February municipal election.

"With the upcoming city elections fast approaching, our report today on Mayor Emanuel's 'Rubber Stamp City Council' is especially timely," Simpson said. "Chicago voters  will be able to see how their alderman voted on specific issues and will be able to determine their alderman's overall support for the mayor's positions."

The study cited eight aldermen who voted with Emanuel every time through his entire term: Michelle Harris (8th), John Pope (10th), Marty Quinn (13th), Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Deborah Graham (29th), Deb and Dick Mell (33rd) and Margaret Laurino (39th).

Yet Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) took issue with the study's very premise. "What is a rubber stamp, a stamp to what, because we're in agreement?" Austin said Tuesday. "That is unfair. What do you want us to do, fight all the time?"

Austin, who is chairman of the Budget Committee, said Emanuel had earned the council's support by being more receptive to aldermanic positions in the process. "I support his administration, more so than anything, because he's done some things that I wished Mayor Daley had done and he did not." She cited Emanuel's work on the committee structure and his relative resistance to "one-time deals" like the Skyway and parking-meter privatization.

Austin said that, even on school closings, "it was a rassle with him." She said the six schools originally targeted for closure in her ward were dropped to three. "The others I was able to save by speaking with him," Austin added. "He understood my plight and the plight of my community.

"I'm not a rubber stamp," she said, "because I fight behind closed doors."

Austin said she's "not here to put a show on for anybody" and that she's unconcerned about the study's effect on her re-election.

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