City Council shuffle rewards Emanuel allies

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Committee chairmanships were doled out to Council allies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | File Photo

The new City Council on Wednesday reorganized itself in a way that doled out key leadership posts to aldermen who helped Mayor Rahm Emanuel get re-elected.

The new line-up was hammered out after weeks of behind-the-scenes political jockeying.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) is taking over the Housing Committee, with an annual budget of $196,506, that had been chaired by ousted Ald. Ray Suarez (31st).

That created an opening in the $154,720 a year Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation Committee that has been filled by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who helped spearhead support for Emanuel in the politically potent gay community.

Tunney’s step up was an opportunity to reward Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Brookins has become a committee chairman for the first time, taking over Tunney’s $110,135 a year Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) assumed control over the $121,789 a year Public Safety Committee; it had been chaired by retiring Ald. Jim Balcer (11th).

The $89,098 a year Human Relations Committee that was chaired by Reboyras is now run by Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st).

And a big political plum — the $205,609 a year Education Committee — has gone to Ald. Will Burns (4th), who helped the mayor improve his South Side ground game on the way to capturing nearly 58 percent of the black vote in the April 7 runoff. Burns takes over from the retiring Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th).

Burns served on the mayoral task force that recommended raising Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. He’s also a proponent of Emanuel’s education agenda who happens to be embroiled in a huge fight with community groups over the future of Dyett High School.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), one of Emanuel’s most visible campaign surrogates, is now vice mayor. That job had been held by Suarez and, though it is largely ceremonial, it could become important if Emanuel were to become incapacitated or leave mid-term.

The defeat of Ald. John Pope (10th) created an opening on the board overseeing Emanuel’s slow-starting Infrastructure Trust for Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd). But Dowell refused. She apparently believed she deserved to become a committee chair and wasn’t interested in a consolation prize.

The City Council has 16 committees, and the balance of power in the new line-up is unchanged from before. Six are chaired by white aldermen. Six are chaired by blacks. And Hispanics control four committees.

That balance did not change even though the new Council has 10 Hispanic aldermen, up from eight.

Sources said that has created some behind-the-scenes tension with a Hispanic Caucus that has argued that the city’s fastest-growing ethnic group deserves a bigger piece of the pie and should hold on to the Housing Committee, which Suarez chaired.

Some have privately grumbled that Emanuel may be punishing the Hispanic community for the 61 percent support it gave to vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

But the mayor can argue that by giving Reboyras a high-profile committee like Public Safety and making Moreno a first-time chairman, he is giving Hispanics their due.

Four years ago, Emanuel rocked the boat with a pre-election threat to reorganize the City Council and strip Finance Committee chairman Edward Burke (14th) of his police bodyguards and, possibly, his chairmanship.

He ended up retaining Burke, cutting his police detail in half, eliminating three committees and reducing committee spending by 20 percent.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Emanuel had a decision to make heading into a second term.

He could either use vacant committee chairmanships created by the defeat and retirement of incumbent chairman to further consolidate committees.

Or he could dole out those coveted positions and the domino vacancies they created to reward his political allies.

The decision was made and ratified Wednesday: To the victor belong the spoils.

Burns takes over the Education Committee at a time when the Chicago Public Schools are on the brink of bankruptcy. CPS faces a $9.5 billion pension crisis, a $1 billion budget shortfall, a federal investigation that has forced Schools CEO Barbara-Byrd Bennett to take a paid leave of absence and an expiring teachers contract that has the Chicago Teachers Union threatening another strike.

The new chairman says he believes that bankruptcy can and should be avoided, but only if the state will assume the responsibility for school funding that it has abandoned and stops the dual taxation of Chicago taxpayers for teachers here and around the state.

Burns said he plans to open a dialogue on school governance even though he joins the mayor in opposing an elected school board.

Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times last week he’s thinking of cleaning house at the school board in the wake of the federal investigation that saw the board award a $20.5 million no-bid principal training contract to a company that once employed Byrd-Bennett.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), a driving force behind Garcia’s campaign, said he’s No. 4 in seniority among alderman and believes he deserves a committee chairmanship.

Even though he didn’t get it, Munoz said Wednesday he looks forward to working with Emanuel and has seen a different, more collaborative side to the mayor since the election. That includes a face-to-face meeting in the mayor’s office that lasted nearly 45 minutes, Munoz said.

As a show of good faith, Emanuel proposed Wednesday that Munoz join Dowell and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) as members of the committee overseeing the work of the City Council’s new independent budget office.


Veteran 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin (standing) showing the ropes to rookie Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), his seatmate. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

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