CITY HALL — Opposition to a weakened Mayor Rahm Emanuel is growing in the City Council, according to a study conducted by a former maverick alderman, but the body still remains largely a rubber stamp on civic issues.
"The level of dissent in City Council is growing, and more aldermen are engaged in the tussle to shape legislation," said Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study. "It's still a rubber-stamp City Council, but it's a weaker, less reliable rubber stamp than Emanuel had in his first four years in office."
It's the third study on Council voting under Emanuel that Simpson, a former independent alderman, has conducted. The first, three years ago, found Emanuel enjoyed even more agreement with aldermen than either Mayor Daley had. The second, a year and a half ago, found opposition congealing around the Progressive Reform Caucus.
Simpson's latest study, "A More Active City Council," released Monday, found that there were 32 divided votes on Council issues just in the 10 months since the new Council was seated a year ago after the municipal runoff election. According to the study, that's almost half as many as the 67 divided votes registered during Emanuel's entire first term.
On those 32 divided roll calls, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) was the only member of the Council to vote with Emanuel less than 50 percent of the time, at 44 percent. Of the five aldermen voting with the mayor less than 70 percent of the time, three belonged to the Progressive Reform Caucus: Scott Waguespack (32nd) at 53 percent, Christopher Taliaferro (29th) at 63 percent and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) at 69 percent. Along with Napolitano, they were joined by Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) at 68 percent.
According to the study, 28 of the 50 aldermen voted with Emanuel 90 percent of the time, but that was down from 37 during his first term. On the other end, 13 aldermen voted with Emanuel less than 80 percent of the time, up from seven during his first term.
"While we don't see a full rebellion in City Council, there has been a real increase in opposition and independence among the aldermen who were elected or re-elected in 2015," Simpson said. "They are more often willing to produce their own legislation and proposed solutions to critical city problems rather than wait for or clear their proposals with the fifth floor," where the Mayor's Office is situated.
"This is classic heads you win, tails I lose," responded mayoral spokesman Adam Collins. "Apparently the two options are we either have a rubber-stamp Council or the mayor is weak.
"Call it what you like," he added, "the fact is for the past five years the mayor has worked collaboratively with the City Council to address the major issues that have faced Chicago for decades, and we will continue to do so in the years ahead."
Yet Simpson pointed to how even "loyal supporters of the mayor, like Aldermen [Howard] Brookins (21st) and [Anthony] Beale (9th), as well as progressive opponents of the mayor, submit proposed legislation without clearing it with the administration."
Just this week, Beale, chairman of the Transportation Committee, will press an issue the mayor is opposed to: requiring ride-sharing drivers as well as cabbies to get chauffeur's licenses.
Simpson also pointed out that 15 aldermen voted with Emanuel on every contested vote since June:
• Pat O’Connor (40th)
• Ed Burke (14th)
• Gregory Mitchell (7th)
• Michelle Harris (8th)
• Patrick Daley Thompson (11th)
• Derrick Curtis (18th)
• Danny Solis (25th)
• Walter Burnett Jr. (27th)
• Ariel Reboyras (30th)
• Carrie Austin (34th)
• Emma Mitts (37th)
• Margaret Laurino (39th)
• Joe Moore (49th)
• Will Burns (4th), who has since left the council
Over a shorter period, that was actually up from nine who voted with Emanuel during his entire first term:
• Marty Quinn (13th)
• Deb Mell (33rd)
• John Pope (10th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Dick Mell (33rd), all of whom have left the council
Simpson cited four specific issues that weakened Emanuel: his runoff against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago) in last year's election, his $755 million in tax increases, the Laquan McDonald case and continuing controversy over the delayed release of the police dashcam video, and his plummeting approval ratings in polls.
He cited a New York Times poll showing just 25 percent of city residents approve of the job Emanuel is doing, while only 8 percent of African-Americans believe Emanuel "cares a lot about people like them."
"Because Mayor Emanuel has become politically weaker," Simpson said, "aldermen are less willing to follow him blindly, especially on hard votes like raising taxes, and aldermen don’t want to go against the clear wishes of their constituents."
Still, Simpson pointed out that "Mayor Emanuel has yet to lose a single vote nor has he had to use his veto in the City Council. He has compromised on some proposals and stood aside on others, such as the inspector general oversight of the City Council."
Simpson served as 44th Ward alderman during the '70s and was considered "the conscience of the Council."
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