Babies OK in City Council, flowers and convicted aldermen not so much
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Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s baby may have made history by making an appearance Thursday on the floor of the U.S. Senate, but Maile Pearl’s time in the spotlight would have been old news if it happened during a meeting of the Chicago City Council.
In November 2016, 6-month-old Jeneva Claudette tagged along as her father, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), attended a hastily scheduled City Council meeting called to ensure that Chicago was able to snag $1 billion in federal money set to fund the renovation of the Red and Purple CTA train lines before President Barack Obama left office.
Although the Council’s Rules of Order and Procedure ban anyone from entering the chamber unless they are a member of the news media or a guest of the mayor, no one reached for the rule book when Ervin carried Jeneva — covered by a pink, black and white blanket — on to the Council floor in a car seat.
Instead, aldermen sitting near Ervin snapped pictures of the baby, while those further away scrambled for a good look at her. Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled with the new addition to the chambers, appointing Jeneva the Council’s new timekeeper, expressing hope that she would prompt aldermen keep their remarks short.
In fact, the only people explicitly banned from the Council Chambers are former aldermen who have “been convicted in any court located in the United States of any infamous crime, bribery, perjury, or other felony shall not be permitted within the bar of the City Council Chambers, including the privilege of being on the Council floor.”
That covers the 29 aldermen convicted of crimes related to his or her official duties since 1972. Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) is awaiting trial on charges that include wire fraud, extortion and bribery.
It should be no surprise that Ervin’s decision to bring his baby with him to the last-minute Council meeting after he found himself without child care didn’t result in charges of rule breaking, since aldermen routinely disregard the more arcane provisions of the rule book.
Those rules include a requirement that aldermen refrain from walking “across or out of the Council room,” during debate.
Council members routinely hold court outside the chambers during meeting, heading inside only to cast a vote. Aldermen often help their colleagues avoid missing a vote — and forcing them to ask the city clerk to amend the vote tally — by yelling out “roll call” as a vote begins.
Emanuel’s favorite rule must be the one that requires aldermen to address the mayor as “Mr. President” before speaking.
Although the Council’s rules were updated last year with the addition of a provision allowing members of the public 30 minutes to address the mayor and aldermen after the city lost a court case, they consistently refer to city officials — including the city clerk and president pro tem — with male pronouns.
The city clerk hasn’t been a man since 2011, and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) has presided over the Council in Emanuel’s absence since 2013.
The rules also limit aldermen from speaking for more than 10 minutes at any one time, a rule that is routinely broken by 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke, who often delivers extensive lessons on Chicago’s history as well as paeans to the valor of police officers and firefighters.
Perhaps harkening back to the days when Burke routinely battled former Mayor Harold Washington and other aldermen on the floor of the council, the rules allow aldermen to assert a point of personal privilege only if “his integrity, character or motives are assailed, questioned or impugned.”
However, aldermen often use that measure to laud constituents and praise their staffs.
But perhaps the most picayune rule governing meetings of the Chicago City Council is a ban on flowers.
“Floral displays or decorations shall not be permitted in the Council Chamber during the session of the Council except the customary single floral display on a deceased Alderman’s desk during the official period of mourning” according to Rule 53.
So it is fine to bring your baby to a meeting of the Chicago City Council. Just leave the bouquets at home.