Austin’s four aldermen sponsored more than 900 orders and ordinances since the beginning of 2011, and it appears the majority of that legislation involves ward housekeeping, not citywide policy.
Among the alderman representing Austin, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who was appointed in January 2000 by former Mayor Richard Daley, racked up the most sponsored laws and legislative directives – about 300 – according to data on the city clerk’s website.
Like the other Austin aldermen – Jason Ervin (28th) and Deborah Graham (29th) – Mitts signed off on city budget-related policy, redistricting of the city’s wards and amendments to Chicago’s Infrastructure Trust. Mitts and the other aldermen also co-sponsored a handful of citywide ordinances.
All Austin aldermen, except Ervin, voted to pass Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pot ticketing ordinance in June.
Mitts authored one ordinance that impacts Chicago residents outside of her 37th Ward. Her 2011-approved measure required the city to donate its outdated vehicles to two Chicago inmate-reentry organizations: the Safer Foundation, 571 W. Jackson, and the Community Male Empowerment Project.
Nearly all the other orders and ordinances Mitts sponsored deal with issues in her ward, such as fee-exemptions for nonprofits and residential and handicap parking restrictions, among others. Some specific measures she introduced and passed for the 37th Ward include fee waivers for the Westside Health Authority and an awning for Esquire Unisex Salon, 5106 W. Chicago Ave.
In December 2010, then-City Clerk Miguel de Valle launched the online Legislative Information Center, which shows various legislation, such as resolutions, ordinances and orders aldermen sponsor.
Ervin, Austin’s newest first-term alderman, sponsored about 252 total orders and ordinances since entering officer in February 2011. He authored three citywide measures, including a “prostitution free zone” ordinance in May 2011, but that measure remains in committee. He was also the main sponsor of the Chicago airport worker living wage ordinance introduced in October 2011, which also hasn’t left committee.
The alderman also wanted to modify the powers of the Chicago Police Superintendent in February, but it failed to pass. Graham, who was appointed by Daley to replace former Ald. Isaac Carothers in March 2010, sponsored the fewest orders and ordinances since the beginning of January, totaling about 186.
She was the main sponsor of two ordinances that impact residents across the city. Her amendment to the city’s Deleterious Impact Ordinance, which gives more power to residents disrupted by nuisance businesses, passed in January. Last October, she sponsored a law that would require owners of vacant properties close to schools to hire watchmen. That ordinance is stuck in committee.
24th Ward Ald. Michael Chandler, whose 24th Ward incorporates much of North Lawndale, sponsored about 219 orders and ordinances since being reelected to the position in 2011. Chandler represented the ward for three terms before he lost his seat in 2007; he was elected again in 2011 but appears to have not authored one citywide ordinance so far.
Instead, he filed paperwork for the Taste of North Lawndale Back to School Family Peace Fest for 2011 and a sidewalk caf for La Perla Mixteca Restaurant, 2455 S. Kedzie Ave., in Little Village, among others. It’s not clear how many ordinances Chandler or Mitts sponsored or authored in their previous terms as aldermen, as that information does not exist in any readily available form on the clerk’s site. Mitts and Chandler did not return AustinTalks’ request for those numbers.
Most aldermen, however, do not introduce citywide legislation,” noted Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who’s a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s not uncommon for aldermen to spend most their time filing administrative paperwork for their ward rather than authoring policy that impacts all of Chicago,” he said.
About 95 percent of citywide legislation, Simpson added, comes from Chicago’s various departments or from the mayor.
One longtime Chicago resident who also follows city government agrees it’s not surprising Austin aldermen deal with more constituent concerns than substantive policy.
“Part of my guess is most aldermen are interested in their ward and what happens in their ward, not necessarily worrying about the city as a whole,” said Helene Gabelnick, who’s lived in the city for 45 years.
Many residents on the West Side, she said, might feel as though they don’t get appropriate services, which puts pressure on local aldermen to deal with what’s going on in the ward, not what’s happening across the city.
Although it’s difficult to track how often aldermen introduced and passed legislation before December 2010, the data available on the clerk’s site is an improvement, Simpson said.
“That’s a great leap forward,” he said.