Ferguson’s plan to shake up city politics is needed to keep elected leaders in check

Any initiative that aims to fix Chicago’s faulty political landscape and the uncontrollable rubber-stamp monster it nurtures with morsels of corruption is essential.

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Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson discusses the audit of the Chicago Police Department’s “gang database” during press conference at City Hall, Thursday morning, April 11, 2019.

Former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson in 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The closing lyrics of The Who’s 1971 hit single “Won’t Get fooled Again” perfectly encapsulates Chicago politics.

Or as former Inspector General Joe Ferguson describes City Hall’s decades-old predicament: “It’s Groundhog Day here, always.”

Ferguson, who spent 12 years exposing misconduct and was criticized for doing so as the city’s watchdog, is hoping to change the “19th Century machine patronage culture” that has kept Chicago stagnant and woefully ineffective when it comes to tackling modern-day problems.

Editorial

Editorial

To do that, Ferguson is launching a non-profit “Re-Imagine Chicago” that will re-examine Chicago’s governing structure, including the mayor’s office, City Council and its “ineffective” committee structure, the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported on Friday.

The former prosecutor’s end goal is to change state law, enabling a citizens’ commission to recommend changes in how Chicago is run.

Ferguson is collaborating on the project with the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and said it will require “upwards of $1 million” in fundraising for the first year and more if it takes a longer time to complete.

Needless to say, it will be money well spent.

Any initiative that aims to fix Chicago’s faulty political landscape and the rubber-stamp monster it nurtures with morsels of corruption is worthwhile.

Ferguson rightfully pointed out that in this town, the mayor has always wielded too much power. Such a glaring imbalance often impedes real progress. Cynical Chicago residents or anyone who has watched a City Council meeting for even a few minutes know the drill: Whoever is in charge never faces substantial dissent.

Chicagoans don’t have to look too far back for examples of this self-serving style of leadership. Just last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushed Bally’s $1.7 billion project without much input from a special committee she appointed to deal with casino matters.

She also vowed to empower the inspector general to investigate other city agencies but then decided not to.

It’s not all about mayoral power. Remember the recent ward remapping mess. The process of redrawing city ward boundaries based on new Census data is carried out in a convoluted process that must be taken out of the hands of City Council members driven by political self-preservation.

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Ferguson, who quit in October before the mayor could fire him, has had a front row seat to witness how machine-style politics has been passed on like a baton to Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel and Lightfoot.

“There is no good outcome anywhere in which a single person basically decides everything,” Ferguson told Spielman.

Chicago must crush this system if it wants a City Council that can provide checks and balances and a mayor who leads without bossing others around.

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