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City Council tightrope: How to mark the departure of Emanuel and (some) aldermen

Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will preside over a Chicago City Council meeting for the last time. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Saying goodbye to a retiring mayor and City Council colleagues isn’t supposed to be a complicated endeavor.

But it will be when aldermen bid farewell Wednesday to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the handful of aldermen leaving the Council — either through retirement, self-imposed term limits or political defeat.

It’s complicated by the three present or former aldermen the City Council should be embarrassed to honor.

The group of political untouchables include:

• Convicted former Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), whose resignation took effect with his March 21 guilty plea on federal corruption charges.

• Retiring Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), whose wife accused him of domestic violence. Munoz also stands accused of raiding an account held by the Progressive Caucus political action committee to the tune of $36,849 for unauthorized expenditures, including travel, restaurants and money spent at a suburban lingerie and sex-toy shop.

• And, finally, disgraced and retiring Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who went underground after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed he spent more than two years wearing a wire to help federal investigators build their corruption case against the City Council’s deposed Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th).

Ald. Danny Solis during a City Council meeting in 2015 (Brian Jackson/For The Sun-Times)
Ald. Danny Solis during a City Council meeting in 2015 (Brian Jackson/For The Sun-Times)

Solis was forced to step down as chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee after the Sun-Times disclosed the contents of an explosive federal court affidavit outlining why Solis agreed to go undercover to save his own neck. He allegedly received sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions in exchange for shepherding official City Council actions, the document claims.

With those notable exceptions, the City Council is expected to honor retiring Ald. Marge Laurino (39th), whose decision not to seek re-election will end 53 years of Laurino family leadership of the Northwest Side ward and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who lost a runoff for city treasurer to State Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin after abiding by a self-imposed two-term limit.

The Council will also honor six aldermen defeated at the polls: Proco Joe Moreno (1st); Toni Foulkes (16th); Milly Santiago (31st); Pat O’Connor (40th); John Arena (45th) and Joe Moore (49th).

O’Connor is particularly popular with his colleagues, with a warm and collaborative demeanor that helped him serve as Emanuel’s City Council floor leader and seamlessly preside over the Finance Committee after Burke was forced out.

And then, there is Emanuel, presiding over his last City Council meeting.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley ended his record 22-year reign with a farewell tour of nearly every Chicago neighborhood.

Emanuel hasn’t done that, though he’s fulfilling his promise to “run through the tape” with a frenzied end to his eight-year administration.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader, chats with a seated Ald. Ed Burke (14th) during a Chicago City Council meeting earlier this year. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader, chats with a seated Ald. Ed Burke (14th) during a Chicago City Council meeting earlier this year. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Normally, Burke would be the one to deliver the lavish tribute to the departing mayor. After all, he’s the City Council’s resident historian.

But it’s not at all clear whether Burke is in the mood to deliver one of his patented oratorical tributes on the City Council floor.

Emanuel forced Burke to relinquish the Finance Committee chairmanship that was the alderman’s primary power base for decades after Burke was charged on Jan. 3 with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Toni Preckwinkle.

The Burke scandal also prompted Emanuel to make a fifth and final stab at ethics reform.

Federal prosecutors now face a May 3 deadline to indict Burke on more sweeping charges expected to be drawn from more than a dozen conversations Solis surreptitiously recorded as movers and shakers sought official actions from Burke.

Burke has denied wrongdoing, but is still one of the political untouchables.

Still up in the air are the fates of three other aldermen in nail-biter runoffs: Leslie Hairston (5th); Deb Mell (33rd) and James Cappleman (46th).