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Daley proposes citywide referendum on shrinking City Council from 50 to 15

Chicago City Council meeting

Mayoral hopeful Bill Daley has proposed shrinking the City Council, and now is backing a citywide referendum to let voters decide whether to draw a new map with 15 wards instead of the current 50. | Sun-Times

Bill Daley on Tuesday proposed a citywide referendum to let Chicago voters decide whether to reduce the City Council from 50 aldermen to 15.

Daley, whose father and brothers managed to get along just fine for 43 years with a 50-member City Council, made the radical proposal after accepting the endorsement of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

“We’ve seen too many city scandals in Chicago, including the most recent ones. And we would not be surprised if there’s more coming,” he said.

“With each new scandal, everyone pays lip-service to reform. But the system stays the same. I believe strongly that it’s time for fundamental change.”

Daley noted that times have changed dramatically since the days when city services were delivered totally through the aldermen “and they were essentially like mini-mayors of their wards.”

Today, city services are tracked online and delivered on grid systems that cross ward boundaries. Requests for city services are made through the newly-designed 311 app with feedback.

Instead of aldermen delivering city services and “single-handedly approving developments without any real consideration for our citywide goals and challenges, they should be more like a legislative body that weighs in on policy” and the city’s future, Daley said.

“So today, I’m calling for a citywide referendum in November 2020 to shrink the City Council from 50 to 15 and empower an independent commission to set ward boundaries,” Daley said.

“If we do a referendum, 80,000 signatures by citizens can get it on the ballot. If we get this on the ballot, trust me. It will pass. Let the voters have something to say about it.”

A reporter noted that during Richard M. Daley’s administration and again under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, controversial referendum questions like term limits have been crowded off the ballot by innocuous questions.

Daley vowed to stop such parliamentary maneuvers.

“I will be mayor and I will veto anything that somebody wants to put on that I believe is being put on a ballot in order to stymie the voters really participating,” Daley said.

“We should not be afraid of the public. Let them make a decision.”

Dean, whose 2004 presidential campaign crashed and burned after his infamous primal scream, said Daley “wants to bring Chicago government into the 21st Century.”

“I’m very much hoping that progressive leaders around Chicagoan will rally behind Bill. For too long, people have been asking, `Is Chicago ready for reform?’ The only way you get Chicago ready for reform is by electing a mayor who wants to bring Chicago into the 21st Century with reform,” Dean said.

“Chicago could be a model in fixing many of the urban problems we have around the country with a strong leader like Bill Daley, who does not worry about his next political office. He does not worry about making some mark because of his legacy. What he wants to do is do something for the city he loves and has grown up in. That is the most important motivation you can possibly have.”

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), the always-outspoken chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, lashed out at Daley and Dean for daring to propose putting 35 aldermen out of a job.

“He ought to mind his business. If hasn’t walked in the shoes of an alderman. Shut up. … Go away,” Austin said of Dean.

“I feel the same thing about Bill. It’s like, ‘Bill, your brother ruled over this Council.’ And we were saying the same things to him. There’s not enough resources’ [to pave all of the streets]. And then, when [Richard M.] Daley was here, I had 62,000 people. So how are you talking? You think that’s the solution, to cut the Council down to 15? Walk in my shoes first. “

Bill Daley has been trying desperately to prove he is different from his brother and that his administration would not bring about a repeat of the Hired Truck, city hiring, minority contracting and contract cronyism scandals.

The proposal to let voters decide whether to shrink the City Council is another step in that effort.

It is particularly popular now that Ald. Edward Burke (14th) has been charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 contribution for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.