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Would cutting City Council in half work?

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



So you say you like the idea of cutting the City Council in half, the conversation starter that Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has been using recently with Chicago aldermen if only to watch them gulp.

I understand. I’ve never thought much of the idea myself. But I think I understand why others like it. Throw the bums out. Save some money. All that good stuff.

Emanuel said he’s been bringing up the subject in his cost-cutting talks with aldermen because that’s one of the ideas he heard most often from voters when he was out on the campaign trail.

I hear the same thing all the time from members of the public who think that’s a logical place to start trimming city government.

After listening to Emanuel explain himself Friday, my impression is more that he was trying to let the aldermen know there is a need for dramatic changes to solve the city’s financial woes and that he’s prepared to think outside the bun, not necessarily that this should be one of those changes.

If you don’t mind, though, I thought we might talk about what a brave new world of 25 aldermen would look like, just in case Emanuel decides he seriously wants to pursue it.

To fold 50 wards into 25, basically you’re talking about combining wards. While there wouldn’t be any necessity to use the current ward boundaries as a basis to draw new ones, I still think that’s the most logical reference point for our discussion to help you envision the possible result.

How about we start by putting the 19th Ward together with the 21st? Somehow I have my doubts about whether the folks in Beverly are ready to embrace Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) as their new man on the City Council, but on the basis of demographics, I think he’d be the favorite in a matchup with Ald.-elect Matt O’Shea (19th). Maybe the 19th Warders would rather be combined with Ald. Carrie Austin’s 34th Ward.

Over to the east, you’ve got the 7th and 10th wards as a natural pairing that could pit Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) against Ald. John Pope (10th) in a battle for survival. I could envision several scenarios for how that would turn out, each of which would leave somebody’s current constituency unhappy.

Moving to the Northwest Side, I’m wondering if the 36th Ward would find a more comfortable fit with the Cullerton family stronghold in the 38th or the Austin residents in the 29th.

Up north, you could throw the 39th Ward together with the 40th and let veteran Aldermen Margaret Laurino and Pat O’Connor duke it out, or maybe one or the other would rather give way to Dick Mell’s 33rd Ward.

We could keep this up, but you get the picture. Take your ward, look at the neighboring wards and consider the possible outcomes.

Based on the new census, each new ward in this downsized City Council would have about 108,000 residents.

That would make each Chicago ward larger than all but six other Illinois towns, each of which by the way has its own mayor and city council.

Other large major cities have fewer city council members. Those other cities don’t rely on the their aldermen to be the go-to person for the delivery of city services and other problem-solving, as is the case in Chicago.

But there’s no magic number here. If other cities get along with fewer aldermen, so could Chicago.

I’m just trying to make the point that even though it would be different, it wouldn’t necessarily be better.

If the City Council were to be downsized, this would probably be the year to do it with the city already facing the time and expense of ward redistricting as a result of the 2010 census.

If the goal is to throw everything up for grabs and get a fresh start, this could actually be a good way of accomplishing that. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out the way you expected.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th), the City Council Finance chairman and a past proponent of halving the Council, has pegged the potential savings at $10 million.

I assume that’s the savings before you add in the increased expense allowance for the new super-sized aldermen who will now want to maintain two ward offices so as to better service their constituents in their new larger wards. Of course, they’ll need extra staff members for that as well, unless you’d be fine with a less responsive alderman.



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