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A few months ago a few aldermen with relatively independent voting records began trying to organize a City Council opposition bloc, which they were calling the Progressive Caucus. Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle, one of the caucus organizers, said as many as 20 aldermen would be invited to its meetings, with police accountability, living wages, and affordable housing its top issues.
From afar, it hasn't looked like much has happened since. Mayor Daley got most of what he wanted when aldermen--including, in the end, Preckwinkle and her closest allies--passed an ordinance that reshapes the agency that investigates charges of police misconduct. A couple weeks ago, when the Department of Housing presented its quarterly report to a council committee, none of the progressives was around to hear how the city was doing on affordable-housing issues.
And only six aldermen voted against Daley's plan to create a new city department that will supposedly ensure fair hiring, which is already supposed to be ensured by the city's human resources department and monitored by the Inspector General's office. Though it's opposed by court-appointed hiring monitor Noelle Brennan and attorney Michael Shakman, who's led the antipatronage fight for decades, some aldermen who might have voted against the measure said they had no idea Preckwinkle, 22nd Ward alderman Ricardo Munoz, and 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore were going to oppose it, so they played it safe and went with the council majority. "Many aldermen didn't know they were supposed to vote 'no,'" said someone involved in organizing the caucus. "And some of the old [veteran] guys didn't talk to them about it, because they aren't used to having backup."
Both rookies and many longtime mavericks need to be shown how to work as a coalition, this person said. "We're running a day-care center here."
Preckwinkle, though, says the group, now called the Independent Caucus, is getting organized. "We've had a couple of meetings," she said. Preckwinkle wouldn't specify who or how many aldermen had shown up. "We invite people and those who are able to come attend."
Other organizers say that, with some help from labor unions, the caucus hopes to raise $100,000 by the end of this year to hire at least one staffer who can conduct independent policy research. Right now, aldermen typically rely on analyses by the Daley administration and have no staff or funding to conduct follow-up studies or investigations.
"We don't have anything like a Government Accountability Office," said Moore.