CITY HALL — An "obviously weaker" Mayor Rahm Emanuel has emboldened dissent in the City Council, according to a study released Wednesday by a former alderman.
"The level of dissent in the Chicago City Council is growing," professor Dick Simpson, a former alderman who earned a reputation as the "conscience of the Council" in the '70s, said at a news conference releasing the study.
The latest study found the same number of divided votes — in which any alderman voted against the mayor — in the first two years of Emanuel's second term as in his entire first term: 67. Simpson said by that measure opposition to the mayor had "doubled."
He called the Council "less of a predictable rubber stamp" than in previous years and under previous administrations, but added that progress on that issue was "still slow, and you might say glacial, in its improvement."
The study found that five aldermen had sided with Emanuel on all the divided votes:
• Edward Burke (14th)
• Danny Solis (25th)
• Ariel Reboyras (30th)
• Margaret Laurino (39th)
• Patrick O'Connor (40th), the mayor's floor leader
Another 22 voted with him more than 90 percent of the time.
Yet Simpson said those siding with the mayor less than 90 percent of the time had risen to 23, up from 22 a year ago, led by Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Scott Waguespack (32nd), both under 60 percent.
The mayor's Council support is down significantly from four years ago, when he topped both Mayor Daleys, renowned for their control of city affairs.
"He is undeniably weaker than during his first term in office," Simpson said.
Simpson attributed that to a run of controversial issues such as police misconduct in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting and video; "shared economy" services such as Uber and Airbnb; tax increment financing funds; higher property taxes and fees on water and garbage.
Simpson, who supported Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago) in Emanuel's 2015 re-election runoff, said the mayor is even more vulnerable now. He said that if opposed by a "viable candidate" with a competitive campaign war chest of $5 million to $10 million, "Rahm Emanuel would be in trouble."
Mayoral spokesman Matt McGrath dismissed the study out of hand. "The sky is blue, water is wet and Dick Simpson still doesn’t like the mayor," McGrath said. "You don't need a report to know that."
Simpson granted, "Mayor Rahm Emanuel still remains dominant over the City Council," in that he had never lost a vote and never had to exercise his veto power.
Simpson credited the 10 aldermen in the progressive reform caucus for galvanizing opposition, but said they were most effective when working with the Council's black and Hispanic caucuses.
Simpson said it was his impression that aldermen are less fearful of vindictive responses from the Mayor's Office than in Emanuel's first term or under either Daley.
"There's a real sense among aldermen that he can't punish them," Simpson said, not even in the next election. He said aldermen were growing more concerned with serving their constituents than serving the mayor.
"We seem to be inching slowly toward a representative democracy in Chicago," Simpson said, "and I think we should try it and see if it works."