Chicago aldermen are not afforded a speaking role at the city’s inauguration program, even though it’s actually an official City Council meeting and their big swearing-in day as well.
That’s not a complaint. Just stating facts.
Nobody wants to hear 50 aldermen speak, least of all the guy who really runs the show, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
As aldermen filed onto the Chicago Theatre stage Monday morning, taking their seats in the rear behind Emanuel, former President Bill Clinton and higher-ranking local political figures, I was reminded that not much has changed despite the addition of 13 new faces.
Although some voters expressed a clear preference for independence in their City Council representatives, most aldermen will continue to see their best play as loyalty to the mayor over the next four years.
Emanuel will continue to set the agenda, and aldermen will be relegated to trying to help him shape it — a majority by working with him and a fraction by working against.
It will take the rest of us a while just to recognize the faces of the new Council members, even with the Sun-Times’ handy seating chart. If seatmates David Moore (17th) and Derrick Curtis (18th) accidentally switch chairs, I probably wouldn’t be the only one who wouldn’t notice, although they don’t look anything alike.
Don’t expect any of the freshmen to have much of an impact for another year or two. Even the new independents will have to deal with the pecking order of more senior members of the Progressive Caucus.
There’s definitely some fresh talent in the ranks, but nobody with a leadership profile of their own that earns them instant credibility with their colleagues or the public.
In fact, if they’re smart, it will be a few months before we even hear the voices of the newbies on the Council floor.
As an NBA analyst might say, it’s usually better for a new alderman to let the game come to them than to force the action. Forced speeches are like forced shots; you can’t take them back.
History shows, however, that there will be several who will be eager to run their mouths and show everyone how smart they are, probably as soon as Wednesday.
Maybe we could start a pool on which new alderman will be first to take to the microphone. I predict it will NOT be Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), who presumably is receiving better advice than most and already seems to be playing the long game.
Some may choose to test their wings at a press conference before addressing their fellow Council members, which can run its own risks.
In a telling interview last week with our Fran Spielman, Emanuel made clear that if aldermen have ideas, they should bring them to him.
Emanuel said he told all the new aldermen: “If what you want to do is press conferences, that’s fine. If you want to see your ideas enacted and work together, if you have real ideas that I could do and a real solution for that problem, don’t stop at go. Run right upstairs and just wave at Jasmine [his administrative assistant]. Just come on in here. [But] if everything is, `I said it, so you’re gonna have to figure out how you’re against it,’ I got it. That’s what you want to do with your time? OK. That’s your choice.”
Translation: It’s your funeral, because you’ll be dead to me.
I’m always looking for aldermen willing to buck the mayor because it makes for a healthier democracy. But picking the right spots is important.
A slightly bolstered Progressive Caucus put out a news release after the inaugural proclaiming a “new day in City Hall.”
Eleven aldermen signed their names to its agenda, topped by “identifying progressive revenue solutions” to pay for city pensions that “ask the very wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share.”
At this point, they have not checked in with Jasmine.