Rahm Emanuel: Idea to cut size of City Council came from the people
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfspielman@suntimes.com March 25, 2011 4:36PM
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel pumps his fist after putting on a state championship t shirt at the Simeon Career Academy pep ralley for the Class 4A state championship basketball team Friday, March 25, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: June 29, 2011 12:21AM
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Friday he raised the prospect of cutting the nation’s second-largest City Council in half to help aldermen “understand the appetite for change” among Chicago voters.
Emanuel said it wasn’t his idea to cut the number of aldermen from 50 to 25. It originated with the public.
The mayor-elect said it’s worthy of discussion, if only to demonstrate the sweeping nature of reforms that must be made across city government to solve a structural deficit approaching $1 billion-a-year when pension liabilities are factored in.
“It’s not about the City Council. That’s not gonna solve our problems even if they make big, radical change. To solve the type of structural challenges, we’re gonna have to do a number of things. The City Council can’t be immune from it. They’ve got to be part of it. But, if all we do is focus on that ... you’re missing the bigger story,” he said.
“What is more important to me is that members of the City Council know we have to change, know the City Council has to be part of change. [How] that will take shape ... is something I will propose but it is ... essential because we are gonna ask our constituents throughout the city to also accept change.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Emanuel has broached the subject of shrinking the City Council during private meetings with aldermen to solicit their ideas on budget and ethics reform.
It was a bold move for a mayor-elect who will need every vote he can get to reorganize the Council, pass his programs and solve a budget and pension crisis that literally has Chicago on the brink of bankruptcy.
Chicago taxpayers currently spend $19.5 million-a-year to maintain 50 aldermen, $5.5 million to provide benefits for City Council employees and an additional $4.7 million-a-year for the 19 standing committees.
Any change in City Council structure would have to be made by the Illinois General Assembly or by Chicago voters in the form of a binding referendum.
Only time will tell whether Emanuel will seriously pursue the idea or choose the political path of least resistance — by shrinking the roster and spending of Council committees.
“I’ve got things I want to get done and changes. I’m not done asking for ideas about that. And I’m not gonna cast my judgment now. But, you’ll have my opinion at the right time. ... You’ll have to just patiently wait to figure out what that is,” Emanuel said.
Also on Friday, Emanuel embraced Interim Schools CEO Terry Mazany’s proposal to consolidate eight schools into six others to confront sagging enrollment at some schools and the growing needs of others.
“To deal with the challenges we have educationally and financially, you can’t have certain schools operating at a third or a fifth of capacity. We can’t afford that. And it’s not just a question of affording. I also think we need to realign how we invest in what I think are the major priorities,” he said.
Emanuel made his remarks at a pep rally at Simeon Career Academy to honor the school’s state championship basketball team.
The mayor-elect entered the assembly to cheers normally reserved for a rock star, shaking hands every step of the way. He then peeled off his suit jacket to replace it with a championship T-shirt and stood on stage pumping his fist like a teenager.
After posing for pictures with players twice his size, he joked, “In my kids’ eyes, I’m a big guy. But, next to these guys, I’m very short.”