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Ald. Burke still Finance head, holds less power in City Council shake-up

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th)

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th)

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Updated: June 11, 2011 12:33AM

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) will stay on as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee — but his power will be somewhat diluted by the creation of a new committee chaired by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s closest ally — under a reorganization plan expected to be ratified next week.

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, City Hall sources said Emanuel has settled on a City Council reorganization that reduces the number of standing committees from 19 to 16 and cuts spending by ten percent or roughly $470,000.

Instead of funneling all major legislation through the Finance Committee, the shake-up calls for creating a new Committee on Workforce Development and Audit chaired by Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th). O’Connor served as Mayor Daley’s unofficial floor leader and will play an even more prominent role in an Emanuel administration.

O’Connor acknowledged that Burke would relinquish some control in the new line-up. But, he said the goal is simply to move the issues that Emanuel outlined as his priorities during the mayoral campaign. Burke and his staff have been “very collaborative” about the idea,” O’Connor said.

“The intent is not to dilute his power. … It’s not about power and this committee vs. that committee. It’s about making the committee structure make sense and having the ability to respond to today’s challenges,” he said.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) will become president pro tem, chairing Council meetings in Emanuel’s absence after relinquishing the Police Committee she now chairs to Ald. James Balcer (11th).

Housing Committee Chairman Ray Suarez (31st) will also serve as vice-mayor.

Aldermen chairing committees for the first time include: Tom Tunney (44th), Economic, Capital and Technology Development; George Cardenas (12th), Health and Environment Protection; Michael Zalewski (23rd), Aviation and Joe Moore (49th), Human Relations.

The line-up also includes: Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th); Education Committee Chairman Latasha Thomas (17th); License and Consumer Protection Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th); Special Events Committee Chairman Walter Burnett (27th); Traffic Committee Chairman Marge Laurino (39th); Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th); Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th); and Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell (33rd).

Of the 16 Council committees, five will be chaired by African-Americans, a loss of one. Seven committees will be chaired by white aldermen, down from eleven currently. The number of Hispanic committee chairmen will go from two to three.

Two committees — Buildings and Landmarks — will be folded into the Zoning Committee. The Environment Committee will be eliminated and merged with the Health Committee. The Parks Recreation Committee will be folded into Special Events and Cultural Affairs.

The Buildings Committee and the Landmarks Committee will be folded into the Zoning Committee. The Environment Committee will be eliminated and merged with the Health Committee.

Chicago taxpayers currently spend $19.5 million-a-year to maintain 50 aldermen and an additional $4.7 million-a-year for the 19 standing committees.

The changes will save roughly $470,000, a largely-symbolic, but nevertheless important move to usher in an era of shared sacrifice needed to erase an annual structural deficit that, Emanuel has claimed, could approach $1.2 billion.

Emanuel rocked the boat with a pre-election threat to re-organize the City Council — and strip Burke of his police bodyguards and, possibly, his chairmanship.

The mayor-elect blames Burke for laying the groundwork for the residency challenge that nearly knocked the former White House chief of staff off the ballot.

But, with an annual structural deficit approaching $1.2 billion, Emanuel ultimately decided to work with Burke and avoid a repeat of the 1980’s power struggle known as Council Wars that saw 29 aldermen, most of them white, thwart then-Mayor Harold Washington’s every move.

Sources said the proposed reorganization has been cleared with all 50 aldermen and is expected to be ratified May 18, when Emanuel presides over his first City Council meeting.

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