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Andjela Padjeski

What do Chicago's aldermen do?

Chicago has many layers of government. From the aldermen who make up the city council to the person in charge of the city stickers to the person everyone knows — the mayor. But what exactly are their responsibilities? WBEZ’s Tessa Weinberg has an overview of who the city’s voters elect every four years and what they do. Here’s what the aldermen do:

Salary: In 2023, between $115,560 to $142,776. Aldermen’s pay varies, depending on whether they’ve accepted annual raises tied to the rate of inflation.

Term: 4 years

How many are elected: 50, one for each ward

Some well-known past office holders: Former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle

What does an alderman do?

Need approval to host a block party? Or want to put up a sign for your business? Your local alderman is likely going to be one of your first stops.

Sometimes called “mini mayors,” aldermen answer for everything from snow removal to pothole repairs in their areas. There are even ward superintendents — Department of Streets and Sanitation employees who work closely with aldermen — to help make sure that kind of stuff gets done.

As one former alderman put it: “I often liken the city of Chicago [to] a feudal system, where the mayor is sort of a de facto king. And each alderman is the lord — I guess, lady, for female aldermen — of their individual fiefdom.”

But beyond the day-to-day constituent services that come with presiding over their kingdoms, they’re legislators, too. The 50 aldermen make up Chicago’s City Council, where they serve on committees and meet once a month as a full council to pass policy. They also vote on the annual city budget, approve (or reject) the mayor’s appointees and redraw the ward boundaries once a decade.

Why is this job important?

The unwritten rule of “aldermanic prerogative” (also called “aldermanic privilege”) gives aldermen major say over what development in the neighborhood looks like. And it means they can give their blessing — or veto — on whether you can add that fourth floor addition or if new public housing will be built.

The council has historically been dubbed a “rubber stamp” City Council, meaning most of the time they go along with what the mayor wants. But the new City Council — and new mayor — elected in 2019Â started to change that reputation.

Learn More:

What does the mayor do?

What does the city clerk do?

What does the city treasurer do?

What does a police district council member do?

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