News & Politics » Politics

The real caucuses in the Chicago City Council

What if aldermen organized themselves based on the way the council actually works?

by and


As the new City Council was sworn in this week, aldermen said they were organizing themselves into five different, loosely defined blocs.

The black caucus has 18 members, the Latino caucus has 13, and the newly formed gay caucus has five. There's also the progressive caucus, a group of self-professed reformers who regularly buck Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the Paul Douglas Alliance, a group of self-professed reformers who regularly praise the mayor. The progressives say they'll have 11 members, and the Douglas Alliance includes nine.

But these blocs don't play a major role in vetting legislation on taxes, pensions, budget cuts, or tax increment financing handouts. If aldermen formed caucuses based on how they vote and who's calling the shots on the city's pressing financial problems, they would look like this. (A * indicates the alderman is one of 13 council rookies, which means they can't be blamed for the city's fiscal woes for at least a couple more weeks.)

The Becky Carroll Caucus: Named for the former Emanuel press aide who heads Chicago Forward, the political action committee dedicated to electing mayoral loyalists. More than half the council—26 aldermen—received funding from the PAC. Now that the election is over, these are the aldermen tapped by the mayor to chair council committees and help pass or kill legislation as he sees fit—though technically the council is a separate branch of government from the mayor's office. ▶ Members: Proco Joe Moreno (First), Brian Hopkins (Second)*, Pat Dowell (Third), Will Burns (Fourth), Leslie Hairston (Fifth), Michelle Harris (Eighth), Anthony Beale (Ninth), Patrick Daley Thompson (11th)*, Matt O'Shea (19th), Willie Cochran (20th), Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), Michael Zalewski (23rd), Danny Solis (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Deborah Mell (33rd), Carrie Austin (34th), Emma Mitts (37th), Margaret Laurino (39th), Patrick O'Connor (40th), Michele Smith (43rd), Tom Tunney (44th), James Cappleman (46th), Ameya Pawar (47th), Joe Moore (49th), Debra Silverstein (50th)

The Don't Forget About Labor Caucus: Its members received donations from at least one of Chicago's leading public-employee unions: SEIU, the Chicago Teachers Union, and AFSCME. Though smaller in size and influence than the Becky Carroll bunch, this group is supposed to make sure that the council occasionally listens to people other than the hedge fund operators, investment bankers, and other big-money donors who financed Chicago Forward and the mayor's reelection. ▶ Members: Proco Joe Moreno (First), Pat Dowell (Third), Will Burns (Fourth), Leslie Hairston (Fifth), Roderick Sawyer (Sixth), Sue Sadlowski Garza (Tenth)*, Patrick Daley Thompson (11th)*, Toni Foulkes (16th), David Moore (17th)*, Willie Cochran (20th), Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), Rick Munoz (22nd), Danny Solis (25th), Jason Ervin (28th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th)*, Nicholas Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st)*, John Arena (45th)

The First Responders Caucus: One of the city's most pressing challenges is what to do about its pension system, which is underfunded by an estimated $20 billion. This group can be counted on to fight like hell against pension cuts for firefighters and cops largely because that's what they were before being elected. ▶ Members: Police division: Ed Burke (14th), Willie Cochran (20th), Chris Taliaferro (29th)*. Firefighters: Nicholas Sposato (38th). Anthony Napolitano (41st)* only gets one vote, even though he was a cop before he became a firefighter.

The Bruce Rauner Caucus: In a Democratic city where officials are lining up against Governor Rauner's budget cuts and union bashing, these aldermen represent wealthy north lakefront wards where the Republican fared well in his election last November. If anyone from the Labor Caucus dares to propose a tax on the wealthy, look for this caucus to speak out in opposition, just as it did last year against the mayor's minimum wage hike. ▶ Members: Brian Hopkins (Second)*, Brendan Reilly (42nd), Michele Smith (43rd), Tom Tunney (44th)

The Michael Madigan Caucus: Everyone. And no, we're not talking about the state house of representatives. Every alderman—including members of the Rauner caucus—is hoping that the house speaker can muscle Governor Rauner into backing off proposed cuts that would force the city to raise local taxes even higher. They could also use his help getting Chicago a casino. ▶ Members: the whole City Council and Mayor Emanuel

The All-in-the-Family Caucus: This time it's going to be different—they swear. Aldermen are vowing to help the mayor move Chicago "forward," "reform" the budget tricks of the past, and "right the city's fiscal ship." But aldermen were also promising to do that a decade ago, and a decade before that—in many cases, the very same aldermen or their relatives. Put another way, many of the same people who led us into this mess are now promising to get us out of it. ▶ Members: Roderick Sawyer (Sixth), son of a mayor; Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), nephew of one mayor and grandson of another mayor; Ed Burke (14th), son of an alderman; Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), son of a state senator; Michael Scott Jr. (24th)*, son of a mayoral adviser; Deb Mell (33rd), daughter of an alderman; Carrie Austin (34th), wife of an alderman; Margaret Laurino (39th), daughter of an alderman; Harry Osterman (48th), son of an alderman; and Debra Silverstein (50th), wife of a state senator

The Wonk Caucus: This is the brainy collection of both mayoral supporters and critics who have one thing in common: they actually read the tedious redevelopment agreements, privatization deals, and other complicated shell games involving taxpayer money that the mayor demands they pass. In contrast, the vast majority of aldermen rely on talking points and summary sheets from the mayor's office, if they read anything at all. As former alderman Richard Mell put it before casting his vote for the disastrous parking meter deal: "It's like getting your insurance policy. It's small print, OK?" ▶ Members: Pat Dowell (Third), Will Burns (Fourth), Leslie Hairston (Fifth), Scott Waguespack (32nd), John Arena (45th), Ameya Pawar (47th)

The Boss Caucus: These are the aldermen who tell the other aldermen what the mayor wants them to do. Any questions? Too bad. ▶ Members: Ed Burke (14th), Pat O'Connor (40th)

The Ayes Have It Caucus: These aldermen will follow the lead of the mayor regardless of the issue, whether it's selling the parking meters, closing mental health clinics, or approving whatever new deal may be on the way. This is almost as predictable as Newton's law of universal gravitation: during the last term 43 aldermen voted with the mayor on more than 80 percent of divided roll calls, according to poli-sci wonks at UIC. ▶ Members: It's simpler to say who's not in the 80 percent group. That would be Leslie Hairston (Fifth), Rick Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nick Sposato (38th), Brendan Reilly (42nd), and John Arena (45th). We'll see about the 13 council rookies.  v

This has been updated to include additional members of the Don't Forget About Labor Caucus.

Add a comment