The Mayor's Announcing His Aldermanic Picks, and We Don't Get to See Who Applied—Yet

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The mayor is expected to reveal his picks for the open aldermanic seats for the First and 29th wards during the 9 AM meeting of the City Council's Committee on Committees, Rules, and Ethics on Wednesday. The committee is expected to sign off on the appointments and forward them to the full City Council, and the full council is expected to seat the new aldermen at its 10 AM meeting. In other words, if all goes as planned, the council will have about an hour to vet its newest members.

As the Reader first reported, last month the mayor’s office posted a help wanted ad on the city’s Web site inviting applications for the two aldermanic seats, left vacant when Manny Flores resigned to head the Illinois Commerce Commission and Isaac Carothers pleaded guilty to taking bribes from a developer.

By law the mayor gets to fill open council seats by appointment, and until this point Daley has made his selections behind closed doors in consultation with the departing alderman and the ward's Democratic committeeman. But after the Carothers plea, Daley appeared sensitive to charges of backroom deal making and went with a more open process.

Never fear—hell hasn't frozen over.

Once the deadline for applications passed, I sent out a Freedom of Information Act request for the resumes of everyone who applied for the two spots. As much as I wanted to see who'd applied, I also wanted to find out if Daley chose from the applicants or simply picked a flunky waiting in the backroom. After some badgering, I got a reply from Jennifer Hoyle, the spokeswoman and FOIA officer for the city’s law department.

“At this time, I intend to deny this request,” Hoyle wrote in an e-mail. “Individuals who apply for positions with the City of Chicago have an expectation of privacy and a trust that their names and personal information will not be shared with outside individuals and entities.”

That response struck me as odd. For starters, these are public offices that under normal circumstances would be filled by election. Also, the state Democratic Party has been posting the resumes of everyone who applied for the lieutenant governor nomination, which was left open when Scott Lee Cohen dropped out after details of his sordid
past came to light.

“We intend for this to be an open and transparent process,” state Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan declared.

The city then sent its denial of my request to the office of attorney general Lisa Madigan, the chairman's daughter. Under state law, disputes over FOIA requests can be forwarded to the AG's office. Last week it ordered the release of the aldermanic resumes.

“When a public office becomes vacant, it follows that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing who has applied for the position so that they may evaluate whether the individuals are qualified to represent a particular ward,” wrote public access counselor Cara Smith. Smith points out that applicants must live in the ward they wish to represent and “the public has a legitimate interest in evaluating whether these applicants have met that residency requirement before the vacancy is filled.”

Sounds like a victory for open government—except that Hoyle told me the resumes won't be available for me to look at until later this week, after the mayor's made his picks.

UPDATE: The appointments didn't go forward this morning. It's not clear why because everybody involved is offering different accounts.

Alderman Richard Mell, who chairs the rules committee, tabled the two "communications from the Office of the Mayor" [PDF] regarding the open seats. Asked about it after the meeting, Mell said, "I don't know what happened. You'll have to ask Joan."

That's Joan Coogan, the mayor's director of Intergovernmental Affairs—otherwise known as his chief City Council lobbyist. But she didn't have much more to say than Mell. "We put a placeholder on the agenda in case we'd made a decision, but we haven't. We're still working on it." She said the mayor would name the replacement for Flores by Monday and for Carothers by the end of the month, meeting the two-month appointment deadlines required by law. She said we could talk to Jackie Heard, the mayor's press secretary, to get more information.

Heard, though, had a slightly different account. She said it had been a mistake to put the appointments on the rules committee agenda. "That was inaccurate," she said. "It wasn't supposed to be there."

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