Joe Moreno and Deborah Graham.
Sure, these look like just two names. But when you combine them with names of the 17 other aldermen Mayor Richard Daley has appointed to the current City Council, a pattern begins to form.
After offering up Moreno and Graham to fill the 1st and 29th Ward vacancies last week, Daley has now single-handedly appointed almost 40 percent of the council’s sitting members and is inching closer to handpicking his own majority, one indictment at a time.
In a city in which machine politics is woven into the fabric, critics say this is a mayor who has too much power to exercise-the New Yorker recently called him the most powerful mayor in America-and too much opportunity to exercise it.
“It’s a very top-heavy administration,” said Jim Laski, a former aldermen who resigned as city clerk in 2006 after admitting to taking a bribe in the Hired Truck scandal. “In some city governments, there is more quid pro quo between the city councilmen and the mayor. This is very much a mayor’s rubberstamp. You might have 10 aldermen who have some independent thinking here, maybe a dozen.”
An analysis of City Council voting records by Dick Simpson, another former alderman, and some of his colleagues in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s political science department shows that if Daley gave you your job as an alderman, you typically vote with him on most issues. Of the 15 Daley appointees on the City Council from May 2007 to 2008, 12 voted with the mayor on all 13 votes that were not unanimous.
Ald. James Balcer (11th), a 1997 Daley appointee, voted with the mayor 100 percent of the time during this period and then 96 percent of the time on the 49 divided roll call votes from April 2003 to November 2006. He is not alone.
The 17th Ward’s Latasha Thomas, appointed by Daley in 2000, voted with the mayor 100 percent of the time from May 2007 to 2008 and 87 percent from during the 2003 to 2006 period. Most Daley appointees had a similar voting record. But in a press conference to announce Graham and Moreno-replacing convicted Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) and Ald. Manny Flores (1st), who left to head the Illinois Commerce Commission, respectively-Daley was adamant that no one does his dirty work.
“They don’t do my bidding. I do my own bidding,” the mayor said.
Laski, though, disagrees.
“[Daley] is the head,” he said. “And either you fall in line with him or there will be consequences-politically or otherwise.”
An alderman in the early 1990s, Laski said the council relied on Daley for guidance and struggled to make independent decisions either because the aldermen are part of the mayor’s machine or are afraid to cross him. Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said much is the same a decade later.
“It’s frustrating for [people] to see the type of activity that happens where the arm-twisting takes place and the alderman goes along with the mayor without really thinking through what is best for their constituents,” he said.
Since being elected in 1989, Daley has submitted 21 budgets to the council. Each has been approved. But that perfect record isn’t what prompts residents and critics to conjure the image of a rubberstamp; it is the fashion in which the budgets have been approved. Seven times Daley has pitched a shutout, with 100 percent of the members giving his budget the OK. That is a third of the time. Five of the unanimous votes came in consecutive years between 2000 and 2004.
Before Moreno and Graham get a chance to vote on any Daley proposals themselves, their appointments are subject to council approval. Its next scheduled meeting is April 14.