Who'll best be able to lead the new City Council as mayor?

January 31, 2011

 

Miguel Del Valle

Now that the election is less than a month away, here’s something to consider: For just a half sec, set aside what all four major candidates are saying, and imagine each one individually calling a City Council meeting to order.

Cuz at the end of the day, it’s the gavel, stupid.

Sure, who these guys know, what their plans are, what their prior experience has been will be crucial to how each and every one will run this town.

But here’s one thing for sure: Not a one of them is Mayor Daley, and not a one of them will be able to get the City Council to bend to her or his will with the same courtly compliance. Though many familiar faces in the council will return, many long-termers will be retired and new aldermen will have every expectation that their voices and their votes will need to be won over, not taken for granted, by the city’s new chief executive.

Moreover, we as citizens should hope that the new relationship between the mayor and the council is emphatically not like Daley’s with his City Council, and that there will be a real and respectful exchange between the neighborhood reps and the new mayor.

Now, who can do that?

Well, not Gery Chico. Yes, I know he trots out that resume of his at every turn, listing all the times he led various failing institutions in town as if he’d actually had some success (before you say schools, remember that the dropout rate under Chico didn’t move at all – and if there’s a better real world measure of success in education, I don’t know what it is). But here’s the problem: Though Chico talks like he was actually in charge, he was always absolutely positively number two to a bigger and more powerful figure – Daley or Alderman Edward Burke, or both. And in the City Council, and in negotiations with the mighty forces that are squeezing the city’s already bankrupt budget, Chico has already surrendered. He already bent over and agreed to leave cop pensions alone and to let city workers live in the burbs. How many questionable campaign contributions has he had to return thus far? Shady characters don't give money to clean polticians -- they give them to pliable pols who they can influence. If you think his soft-spoken I’m-in-charge voice actually means he’ll be in charge, please look into Burke’s eyes and consider whether that’s who you want running the city.

And absolutely not Carol Moseley-Braun, who may be able to fool some of the people some of the time but whose credibility in political circles is pretty much zero. Carol is happy to blame anyone and everyone for her failings – a trait that tends to scare off potential allies. And after her shameful calling out of Bill Clinton for supporting a rival with whom he had an actual relationship – Clinton, the man who saved her political ass by giving her an ambassadorship after her disastrous senate term – it’s clear that she’s willing to throw anybody under the bus. Give her the City Council and she’ll have 50 enemies after the first meeting; after the second, she’ll be leaning on Burke, the eminence gris of the council, to get anything done. Yes, Burke. 

And Rahm Emanuel? Well, he has a pretty good resume but nowhere on it is there even a millisecond of executive experience. And while he may in fact be able to get the president on the line faster than anyone else, it seems unlikely that Obama would deny anything truly urgent to the Democratic mayor of his political hometown, regardless of who it is. So Rahm’s advantage is really his undeniable ability to intimidate (remember the dead fish, remember the crazy knife story ) – in other words, his ability to be like Daley, top down and boss-like. He will have the Daleys whispering in his ear, and he and Burke will come to an accommodation – just like Burke and Daley did – meaning that things may actually not change very much.

And then there’s Miguel del Valle. He actually worked in a legislature for 20 years – his tenure as a state senator with a strong bipartisan, independent and progressive record gives him a unique perspective on parliamentary dynamics. As late as 2006, he was still defying the Democratic machine when he endorsed Ramon Ocasio for judge over Burke’s choice of Ed Lechowicz – and Ocasio won. Del Valle’s not going to have a problem saying no to Burke – he already has, over and over. Consider too that since becoming City Clerk in 2006, he has transformed the office, making it both more efficient and more transparent than it’s ever been. Moreover, he has made the City Council a pet project: he’s posted more than 700,000 pages of council records, including every ordinance, city budget and executive order passed since 1981. Under his watch, and for the first time ever, council meetings can be seen the Clerk’s website, www.ChiCityClerk.com. As mayor, he may well force the City Council to be a truly democratic forum -- what he calls a "strong mayor/strong council."

And wouldn't that be refreshing?