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City Council passes reorganization at Rahm Emanuel’s first meeting

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel holds wooden box with gavel it......from Alderman Ed Burke city council new Mayor . Wednesday May

Mayor Rahm Emanuel holds a wooden box with a gavel in it......from Alderman Ed Burke and the city council to the new Mayor . Wednesday, May 18, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 28, 2011 12:21AM

Presiding over his first City Council meeting and standing the whole time, Mayor Emanuel on Wednesday scored his first legislative victory — a reorganization that cuts Council spending by ten percent, abolishes three committees and establishes his closest ally as a powerhouse.

The plan, first disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times, reduces the number of standing committees from 19 to 16 to save $470,000, but creates a powerful new Committee on Audit and Workforce Development chaired by Emanuel’s floor leader, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th).

No more would all major legislation be funneled through the Finance Committee, chaired by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th). O’Connor’s committee would share the workload — and pass judgment on development deals and labor contracts.

A few more freshmen aldermen than in the past would get seats on some of the Council’s most important committees, including Finance and Workforce Development.

Chairman would no longer be compelled to put referred matters on the agenda at their next committee meeting.

City Council rules tied to the reorganization would also prohibit convicted felons from gaining access to the Council floor. The proposal originated with Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and targeted Solis’ nemesis, convicted former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano (25th).

“When you lose that trust because you got convicted, you do not retain the right because you were once an alderman to go back on the floor — in some cases, as a lobbyist representing somebody. You’ve lost that right. You’ve lost that privilege,” the mayor said.

Emanuel has served as a congressman and White House chief of staff. But, Wednesday’s meeting was his first chance to preside over a legislative body.

The new mayor approached his maiden voyage like an eager beaver.

He arrived at 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, with a bottle of water in his hand and a gleam in his eye.

He quickly buttonholed as many aldermen as he could, small talking with some and talking to others about his idea to create a local version of the Dream Act to protect the children of illegal immigrants.

At the stroke of 10 a.m., Emanuel bounded up to the rostrum where Corporation Counsel Mara Georges was waiting to help him identify aldermen and navigate Roberts Rules of Order, which governs City Council meetings.

But, Georges said afterwards that Emanuel needed no guidance and could easily have flown solo after a brief dress rehearsal on Tuesday.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley appeared somewhat bored by Council meetings and spent more time making small talk in the anteroom behind the Council chambers than he did on the mayor’s rostrum.

Emanuel was a sharp contrast. He was fully engaged. He stood for the entire two-hour meeting, smiling, joking, winking and occasionally waving, even to the news media. He left the rostrum only twice — to go to the washroom and make two brief trips to the Council floor to schmooze and shake hands with aldermen, including Burke.

Afterwards, Emanuel was asked whether leaving three veteran warhorses — Burke, O’Connor and Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) — in charge of the Council’s three most powerful committees qualified as the “reform” he promised.

Pounding the podium, he replied, “It’s not who sits on what committee, it’s what we do. It’s whether you use the committee to bring change. That’s the measure. You’re job will be, have we done it? You’ll ask that on a regular basis — and I welcome it. I’ll be asking it. I think we’ve set up the structure to bring about that change.”

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