While rewarding his City Council allies and snubbing his enemies Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel managed to also royally tick off one of those allies in divvying up plum committee chairmanships.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), an Emanuel loyalist left out of the political rewards, made his displeasure known by conspicuously voicing his “No” vote against the City Council reorganization plan.
Maldonado was miffed in particular that he was bypassed for a chairmanship while one of his rivals, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), was made chairman of the Human Relations Committee.
Maldonado also accused Moreno of backing Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia against Emanuel in this year’s mayor’s race, although Moreno insists he was neutral.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a lot of inside baseball, you’re right.
But what makes it more interesting to me is that Maldonado, normally a dependable vote for anything the mayor wants, was suddenly talking like he has an independent streak.
Maldonado told me he felt “liberated” by the mayor passing him over because he will now be “free to vote my conscience” on the difficult issues the City Council is expected to soon be facing.
Committee chairmen are generally expected to side with the mayor on all matters, even when they have a disagreement.
Maldonado, normally from the go-along-to-get-along school of politics, had seemed to follow that dictum in past years even without any of the honorific positions.
The Council realignment clearly left him feeling taken for granted.
Maldonado had hoped to be made chairman of the Education Committee, which instead went to Ald. Will Burns (4th).
Maldonado was appointed alderman in 2009, which gives him a slight seniority edge over both Moreno (appointed in 2010) and Burns (elected in 2011).
Prior to that, he spent nearly 15 years as a Cook County commissioner, which he undoubtedly expected would count for something, too, under the traditions of Chicago politics.
Aldermen covet committee chairmanships for several reasons, starting with the fact each committee has a small budget that allows them to hire a few more staffers.
A chairmanship also affords an alderman an opportunity to have greater influence in their designated subject area, which sometimes can translate into fundraising possibilities as well. Plus, there’s some prestige involved.
Maldonado said he could not support any Council committee plan that gives a chairmanship to an alderman who “meddles” in another alderman’s ward, which was intended as a shot at Moreno.
The two have been feuding over numerous issues that touch upon their neighboring near Northwest Side wards, most recently whether to hold Riot Fest in Humboldt Park.
Maldonado wanted Riot Fest removed from the park, which is in his ward. Moreno was a strong supporter of the music festival.
Maldonado and Moreno also have been on opposite sides of a power shift in Northwest Side politics, with Moreno part of the winning alliance that has been chipping away at the influence of Cook County Democratic Chairman Joseph Berrios.
Emanuel’s decision may have been as simple as teaming up with the side that seems to have momentum, while also harnessing a young alderman with ambition.
Moreno said he won’t be handcuffed by his chairmanship role but adds: “I’m not going to be the guy out there throwing bombs at the mayor for the sake of throwing bombs.”
Despite being left empty-handed, it would be a surprise if Maldonado stays off the reservation for long.
At some point, he’ll probably want help from the mayor’s office on some matter, and then he’ll need to toe the line like always.
As long as he’s in this frame of mind, however, maybe the Progressive Caucus can recruit him to join.
Any alderman who wants to vote his conscience deserves all the encouragement he can get.