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For the first time since the 80s, a group of aldermen is trying to form a unified independent bloc in the City Council.
It should look a lot different from the Vrdolyak 29. The Progressive Caucus will focus on three issues, according to Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle, one of its organizers: police accountability, affordable housing, and living wages.
All three issues have roiled the council over the last year. Last summer’s big-box minimum-wage battles helped provoke several labor unions to get involved in the municipal elections, which produced nine new aldermen. In May Mayor Daley and his allies pushed an affordable housing ordinance through the council despite criticism from Preckwinkle and others that it didn’t do enough to help low-income families. Last month several aldermen deferred a mayoral proposal to reform the process of investigating police misconduct, saying it still wouldn’t be independent enough to confront corruption and abuse.
Preckwinkle said she isn’t sure how the caucus is going to do its business—whether it’s just going to meet and talk regularly, like the black and Latino caucuses do now, or whether it’s going to end up as regular voting bloc that essentially functions as the council’s opposition party. But she sounds like she’s aiming for the latter. “We haven’t met yet, so it’s hard to predict what people will want to do,” she said. “But we hope we can reach some consensus.”
She wouldn’t name names, but Preckwinkle said “about 20” aldermen have been invited to sit down and talk about the caucus. When I told her that sounded high to me, she noted that at one point in the previous council 12 people were willing to fight Daley for a tougher housing amendment, and that every member of the black caucus—except mayoral ally Ike Carothers, the chair of the council’s police and fire committee—recently backed a call for hearings into last year’s weak report on police torture under former Commander Jon Burge. (The hearings are now scheduled for July 24.)
In other words, when they’re offered cover, more aldermen than we expect will join the fun and challenge the mayor on these issues.
When I asked why she hadn’t tried to get an independent bloc together before, Preckwinkle was typically curt: “Critical mass.”