Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez wants to curb mayoral power, cut City Council by half

The most dramatic and controversial of Lopez’s proposals is to reduce the size of the City Council from 50 members to just 25. Alderpersons and mayors have talked about it for decades.

SHARE Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez wants to curb mayoral power, cut City Council by half
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), announces he is running for mayor of Chicago in 2023, during a news conference at The Plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the South Side, Wednesday afternoon, April 6, 2022.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th)

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) on Monday unveiled a dramatic plan to rein in mayoral control and give Chicago the strong council-weak mayor form of government that the municipal code intended.

Following Daniel Burnham’s advice to “make no little plans” that have “no magic in them to stir men’s blood,” Lopez is promising big changes if he is elected mayor of Chicago.

Either by seeking a change in state law or by flexing Chicago’s home-rule powers, Lopez is promising to:

• Cut the City Council by half, empower Council committees to approve spending by departments they oversee and give the Council its own, truly independent budget office and parliamentarian to challenge dubious mayoral rulings from the chair.

• Create three new citywide elected officials — the corporation counsel, inspector general and city comptroller — instead of empowering the mayor to appoint “pawns” to those pivotal positions.

• Create a 21-member Municipal Charter Commission to reexamine the structure of city government every 10 years.

The most dramatic and controversial of those changes is to reduce the size of the City Council from 50 members to just 25.

Alderpersons and mayors have talked about it for decades. Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was once a champion of it. So was former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Both of them — and scores of others — dropped the idea like the hot potato that it was in favor of nibbling around the edges of reform.

But Lopez argued Monday that, with Burke and retiring Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) awaiting trial on federal corruption charges and convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) already serving time in prison, nothing short of dramatic change will suffice.

“It is my hope that a leaner, reinvigorated City Council with new and guaranteed oversight authority and budgetary authority over departments would be able to flex its muscles accordingly and be a true partner in government,” said Lopez, one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken critics.

Lopez noted that 85% of requests for city services are “handled outside the local ward office” through 311, city apps or online. When the local aldermanic office does get involved, it’s “often the stumbling block,” he said.

“We are not the City Council of the 1800s. We are a 21st century city and we need 21st century Chicago. One that is able to focus on city services as they are currently being delivered as well as focusing on the legislation and oversight that they’re meant to take care of,” he said.

Why clip the mayor’s wings with three new citywide elected officials?

“Mayoral control and authoritarianism … often comes from his or her ability to have the corporation counsel do the legal maneuvering they need to secure their power, squash or silence reports aimed at making government more efficient and to play the smoke-and-mirrors games of budgeting,” Lopez said.

“Making those three positions independently elected … would ensure there are other players on the board who will hold the mayor’s feet to the fire to ensure that they are honest, fair and representing the truth in all of their dealings.”

A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot owes her election to the Burke scandal. But Lopez argued that her campaign promise to “bring in the light” has been a joke.

“Even the most ardent of reformers … fell victim to the power given to her and abused it. Not only with the Hilco situation, where an entire [Little Village] community was polluted and she refused to release the report, but even in her first six months in office where Anjanette Young was re-victimized by her own Law Department for refusing to acknowledge a mistake,” he said.

Lopez is not the first person to suggest dramatic changes in Chicago government.

Former Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who was openly criticized and then forced out by Lightfoot, has launched a nonprofit he calls “Re-Imagine” Chicago to do the same thing.

One month later, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) argued that the City Council needs to be “turned upside down” — with its own speaker, parliamentarian and attorney and committee chairs it chooses — to end Lightfoot’s “dictatorship.”

And just last week, mayoral challenger Paul Vallas outlined a plan to turn the City Council into a co-equal branch of government. It would start by creating a “truly independent” City Council budget office with power to scrutinize spending at all agencies of local government, including the Chicago Public Schools.

On Monday, Ferguson welcomed Lopez to a debate that has been joined by three other mayoral challengers who understand that the ultimate decision rests with the people of Chicago to determine what form of government they want and deserve.

But Ferguson noted that the idea of an elected inspector general “exists nowhere” in the country and, in fact, “runs contrary to what an inspector general is.”

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