Inside Chicago’s City Hall each month, aldermen and the mayor submit hundreds of proposals for new city laws, permits and other miscellaneous legislation for their colleagues to consider.
“(It) would discharge an alderman from elected office, eliminate their ward permanently and change the ward map,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward. “The offending alderman would basically be kicked out of office for riding an e-scooter.”
You read that right: An alderman who rides an electric scooter could lose his or her job. It would take care of two things many Chicagoans seem to love to hate right now: electric scooters and aldermen.
But where did Hopkins get such a notion? He said the resolution stems from an event held over the summer across from the Newberry Library in Washington Square Park. It’s a longstanding annual tradition called the Bughouse Square Debates.
“It’s sort of ‘get off my lawn’ on steroids,” Hopkins said. “People just feel the need to jump on the soapbox and they want everyone within earshot to hear their opinions.”
This year, Hopkins started a new tradition at the Bughouse debates, where people attending could submit ideas for new Chicago laws. He promised to put the best one on the floor of City Council. But there was a tie for first place — so Hopkins said he combined both those ideas into one resolution.
The first idea came from “ubiquitous pontificator” Alan Sydel, who argued that the city ought to ban the electric scooters now tooling around the city as part of a pilot program.
“There have been 21 documented scooter related injuries during the pilot’s first two months, many requiring surgeries,” Sydel argued at Bughouse in July.
The scooters are actually a serious matter for the City Council. The pilot program ends on Oct. 15, and aldermen can then decide if the scooters are allowed to stay in business here. Since the pilot started on June 15, there have been complaints about safety and riders breaking the rules of the road.
But the other half of this particular proposal — erasing the City Council from existence — makes it unlikely that Hopkins’ proposal will go anywhere anytime soon. (Also, it was sent where City Hall legislation goes to die: the Committee on Committees and Rules.)
Attorney and “infamous agitator” Scott Priz submitted his idea to Hopkins at the Bughouse event: get rid of the whole Chicago City Council.
“Throughout its long history, [Chicago’s City Council] has not proven to be an effective way of governing,” Priz said. “It’s mostly been a wreck. It’s either been a den of corruption or been [a] rubber stamp for powerful mayors.”
Hopkins said he did consider submitting two separate ordinances, Priz’s and the one on scooters. But he worried that Priz’s proposal to cut City Council might have been taken seriously, putting him and the rest of his colleagues out of work.
“My concern was that Mayor [Lori] Lightfoot wouldn’t think it was a joke when I put in a resolution to eliminate the City Council and she might actually sign it into law before any of us had a chance to vote against it, so I didn’t want to take that chance,” he said.
Lightfoot’s staff said she was too busy to comment. To be fair, she’s dealing with larger problems, like the city’s $838 million budget gap.
Hopkins said the resolution wasn’t meant to be serious, but rather to honor the rowdy and outspoken tradition of Bughouse Square and foster the opportunity for Chicagoans to put forth their ideas for laws and policies.
“I think the [soapbox] speakers going back throughout history, including people like Studs Terkel and Lucy Parsons and you know other notable historical figures, would be delighted with the idea that Bughouse Square could become a fountain of legitimate legislation.”
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.