What do Chicago’s alderpersons do?

Sometimes called “mini mayors,” alderpersons answer for everything from snow removal to pothole repairs in their areas.

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In addition to day-to-day constituent services that come with presiding over their kingdoms, alderpeople are legislators, too. The 50 alderpeople make up Chicago’s City Council, where they serve on committees and meet once a month as a full council to pass policy.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Chicago has many layers of government, including the alderpersons who make up the city council, the person in charge of the city stickers and the person everyone knows about — the mayor.

But what exactly are their responsibilities?

WBEZ’s Tessa Weinberg has an overview of who the city’s voters elect every four years and what they do.

Here’s what your alderperson does:

Alderperson

Salary:In 2023, between $115,560 to $142,776. Alderpersons’ pay varies, depending on whether they’ve accepted annual raises tied to the rate of inflation.

Term:4 years

How many are elected:50, one for each ward

Some well-known past office holders:Former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle

What does an alderperson do?

Need approval to host a block party? Or want to put up a sign for your business? Your local alderman is likely going to be one of your first stops.

Sometimes called “mini mayors,” alderpersons answer for everything from snow removal to pothole repairs in their areas. They work closely with ward superintendents — Department of Streets and Sanitation employees — to help make sure that kind of stuff gets done.

As one former alderperson put it: “I often liken the city of Chicago [to] a feudal system, where the mayor is sort of a de facto king. And each alderman is the lord — I guess, lady, for female aldermen — of their individual fiefdom.”

But beyond the day-to-day constituent services that come with presiding over their kingdoms, alderpersons are legislators, too. The 50 alderpersons make up Chicago’s City Council, where they serve on committees and meet once a month as a full council to pass policy. They also vote on the annual city budget, approve (or reject) the mayor’s appointees and redraw the ward boundaries once a decade.

Why is this job important?

The unwritten rule of “aldermanic prerogative”(also called “aldermanic privilege”) gives alderpersons major say over what development in the neighborhood looks like. And it means they can give their blessing to — or veto — whether you can add that fourth floor addition or if new public housing will be built.

The council has historically been dubbed a “rubber stamp” City Council, meaning most of the time they go along with what the mayor wants. But the new City Council — and new mayor — elected in 2019 has started to change that reputation.

Learn more:

Tessa Weinberg covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @tessa_weinberg.

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