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Study: Emanuel has firmer control over City Council than Daley did

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Sun-Times files

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Sun-Times files

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Updated: May 11, 2013 6:28AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has kept the City Council in check by doing what successful parents do: picking his battles, bending when necessary and building consensus by keeping the kids informed.

The strategy is working like a charm, according to a new study.

After analyzing 30 divided roll calls in the nearly two years since Emanuel took office, University of Illinois at Chicago researchers concluded that Emanuel has enjoyed more iron-fisted control over the council than former mayors Richard M. Daley, Richard J. Daley or Ed Kelly, the Democratic machine co-founder.

Twenty-one aldermen supported the mayor’s programs 100 percent of the time, while 18 others were more than 90 percent in lock-step.

There have been no shortage of controversies — ranging from speed cameras, police station and mental health clinic closings to the mayor’s Infrastructure Trust and his plan to nearly double water and sewer fees.

But only seven of the 30 issues drew six or more dissenting votes. Emanuel’s average level of support on all of the divided roll calls was 93 percent, compared to 83 percent during Richard J. Daley’s first two years in office and Kelly’s 88 percent.

“Rahm said he would form a partnership. He said voters didn’t want Council Wars or a rubber stamp. But despite that claim, what we got is a rubber stamp,” said UIC political science professor Dick Simpson, a former independent alderman.

Simpson pointed to the recent decision by 10 aldermen to break away from the Council’s Progressive Caucus and launch their own, more moderate “Paul Douglas Alliance.” That’s a divide-and-conquer move that further solidifies Emanuel’s hold on the Council.

“We just celebrated the 10th anniversary of Richard M. Daley putting the X’s in Meigs Field. When you don’t have a check and balance, autocratic mayors can make really major mistakes,” he said.

Pressed to explain the City Council’s obedience, Simpson pointed to the take-no-prisoners reputation Emanuel built while working under former President Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama and as chief architect of the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.

“Some alderman are afraid of him because of his boisterous, in-your-face nature and his reputation for payback and remembering who his enemies are,” Simpson said.

Richard M. Daley took office in 1989 at a time when Chicago was still bitterly divided along racial lines. When then-Budget Committee Chairman Lemuel Austin (34th) dared to defend Daley’s early budgets, he was ridiculed by his African-American colleagues.

Emanuel has suffered no such early troubles.

Emanuel’s opposition is led by a handful of aldermen: John Arena (45th), who voted with the mayor 40 percent of the time, Bob Fioretti (2nd), 53 percent; Scott Waguespack (32nd), 63 percent; Nick Sposato (36th), 67 percent and Leslie Hairston, 73 percent.

Two aldermen have changed their independent stripes under Emanuel: Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Joe Moore (49th), the study showed.

Moore, who was rewarded with a committee chairmanship, went from 51 percent support of Daley to 97 percent support of Emanuel. Munoz supported Daley at a 65 percent clip, but has voted with Emanuel 87 percent of the time.

Moore attributed his conversion to Emanuel’s progressive agenda — including “honest” budgets “free of gimmicks” and the closing of two coal-fired power plants — and to the mayor’s willingness to compromise in the face of aldermanic opposition.

“The Infrastructure Trust being one. The parade ordinance being another one. Two prime examples of things that, as initially proposed, I opposed it. But then, they made some changes that made it much more comfortable for me to support,” he said.

“Different mayor. Different approach — an approach that I’m comfortable with. There’s been more openness with the City Council. There’s been a real sea change in how government is approached. He’s more progressive than the previous mayor.”

Munoz added, “Some of the things that Emanuel has been doing are acceptable — things I could vote for. I still have my disagreements with him. But he’s just got more favorable programs.”

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