Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti has said he’s tired of having to elbow lobbyists on his way to the City Council floor. He’s equally tired of their extraordinary influence on legislative business.
Now, he wants to do something about it.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Fioretti (2nd) tried to out-maneuver Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the subject of ethics reform so important to capturing the independent vote — by introducing an ethics ordinance that takes aim at Chicago’s most powerful alderman.
Fioretti’s version would preclude lobbying activity during Council meetings and prohibit elected officials from lobbying Council members on behalf of their “paying clients.”
The ordinance also would discharge ordinances stalled by “committee inaction” with 48 hours notice before Council meetings and require aldermen who recuse themselves from City Council votes to also step aside when it’s time to debate.
Fioretti acknowledged that the final provision was tailor-made to change the behavior of Ald. Edward Burke (14th).
Burke routinely abstains from City Council votes to avoid conflicts with his private law clients. But he sometimes participates in debates on those matters when they come before the Finance Committee he chairs.
“Aldermen should be prohibited from speaking on items, then recusing themselves from the vote. It’s growing by leaps and bounds. It’s unacceptable. Ethics should begin in here and on the fifth floor, and I don’t see it,” Fioretti said.
Fioretti said it’s no wonder that Burke is routinely referred to as the Chicago aldermen with the most clout.
“Is it because you get to speak, listen, then recuse yourself after? It has to stop,” he said.
Burke refused to comment on Fioretti’s ordinance, adding, “I haven’t even read it.”
Another potential target of Fioretti’s ethics crackdown is former Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), who engineered the mayoral appointment of his daughter, Deb, before retiring to become a part-time lobbyist.
“I’m a [former] alderman. I’m not here to lobby. I’m just here to see who’s here. I’m just hanging around. That’s all,” Mell said Wednesday.
Mell said he was not lobbying for any of his clients on Wednesday, but he does do lobbying work that just might be reined in by Fioretti’s ordinance.
“If it’s the will of the Council, I have no problem with it,” Mell said.
“I’m not on the floor. I never went on the floor. If he doesn’t want us [around], it’s OK with me. How many times have I been down here [since Mell retired] — once, twice?”
In fact, Mell hangs around the City Council chambers a lot — both to corral and kibitz with former colleagues during committee meetings and during days when the full Council is in session.
Since his first day in office, Emanuel has introduced a steady stream of ethics ordinances and executive orders in an attempt to turn the page from the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant cloud over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.
But Fioretti obviously believes Emanuel’s crackdowns have not gone far enough when it comes to reining in lobbyists.