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Without debate, Emanuel's aldermanic leaders get the nod

There was some pomp but little substance as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presided over his first city council meeting Wednesday.

Around 10 a.m., Rahm Emanuel took his place at the podium and called the meeting to order. Unlike Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel stood through the entire meeting, listening as aldermen give speeches.

The council, which includes 13 new aldermen, gave him a gavel as a gift, and - without debate - approved Emanuel's picks to lead committees. Most key panels will be chaired by aldermen who were also leaders during the Daley years.

"It's not who sits on what committee [that matters]," Emanuel said in defense of his proposal. "It's what we do."

Emanuel's council reorganization plan reduced the number of committees from 19 down to 16. He recommended one of his early supporters, 40th Ward Ald. Pat O'Connor, to chair a new committee with oversight of some hot button issues: including pensions and labor contracts.

"I think everybody kind of got over the nervousness," O'Connor said of the new mayor's first council meeting. "And as we get deeper into the issues, they'll be a little bit more tense days, but this was a good day."

Those tense days will include debate on the new mayor's attempts to close a 2012 budget deficit estimated at more than a half-billion dollars. Emanuel said Wednesday he is looking to union leaders for help balancing the books.

"Now, I would like to deal with it and my starting point will be one of cooperation to bring the changes necessary," Emanuel told reporters after the meeting. "But we will get it done."

Emanuel also must address dozens of promises that he made on the campaign and during his transition - many of which will not be free. He wants to hire new police officers, extend Chicago's school day and add miles of bike lanes around the city.

Also Wednesday, the council passed a rule barring any former alderman convicted of a felony - and there are quite a few of them - from hanging out on the council floor.

"I think we all recognize that there's something unseemly about having a former member who was convicted of a crime being permitted within the bar of the chamber, as is the tradition in our rules," explained 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke.

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