August marks the first 100 days of our recently elected alderpeople’s four-year terms. That’s why this month City Bureau, the South Side-based civic journalism lab, has been hosting a workshop series with Chicago United for Equity in wards around the city to tackle two questions: What has your alderperson been up to since taking office? How can we hold City Council accountable in between elections?
On August 15, we took these questions to Austin for a workshop with Austin Weekly News and Austin Coming Together. It was part of City Bureau’s Public Newsroom series, which are free weekly workshops aimed at discussing, debating and deconstructing the most pressing issues in our city.
The following is a condensed version of our accountability workshop. You can find a downloadable, printer-friendly version at www.citybureau.org/100days. Learn more about City Bureau’s Public Newsroom series at www.citybureau.org/publicnewsroom. To get access to our full series of activities, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Bureau is a member-supported civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at www.citybureau.org.
Civics 101: Alderperson Ad-lib
Did you know an alderperson has three roles? That’s three different ways to make changes that might affect you and your community. In the activity below, name an issue you care about and identify which of your alderperson’s roles can address it.
1. “Mini Mayor”: The alderperson is sometimes called a “mini-mayor” within each ward in Chicago, because they have a lot of power over what happens in that ward. They have their own budget which they can use to do local infrastructure projects (like street repairs, street lights, even murals). They also have the power to give or deny licenses to local businesses and to change zoning within their ward.
2. Legislator: As members of city council, alderpeople have the power to write and vote on legislation that will impact the entire city. They also approve the city’s annual budget and make decisions about how the city should use TIF money (a pot of money that is supposed to bring development to “blighted” neighborhoods). The city council has committees that review legislation on different subjects like finance, public safety and transportation. These committees discuss, amend and vote on a piece of legislation before the entire city council gets to vote.
3. Advocate: An alderperson can also act as an advocate for their constituents. They can use their position to try and convince other representatives (like the mayor, fellow alderpeople or even state reps) to support a certain policy. For example, alderpeople don’t have direct power over Chicago Public Schools, but they can put pressure on the mayor to enact a certain policy for public schools.
An issue I care about is ________________________________________________________.
I want to appeal to alderperson (name) _____________________________________________
in their role as a ______________________________________________________________
because (what do you hope they will do in that role) _____________________________________________________________________.