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RIP Grip: Rahm Is (Slowly) Losing His Rubber Stamp In City Council

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 17, 2017 7:28PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel address City Council, 2015 / Getty Images / Photo: Scott Olson

Good news for those who'd like to see their aldermen rage a bit more against Rahm's machine: the mayor continues to see the "absolute rubber stamp" he once enjoyed diminish, according to a new study. The bad news: the overall degree of pushback remains "small, and City Council is only glacially evolving."

That's the crux of an annual report put forth by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Department of Political Science. The Backbone Index, if you will, found that "the rate of divided roll call votes—twice the rate in Emanuel’s first four-year term—combined with an increase in the number of aldermen voting against the mayor—are indications that the aldermen are becoming more independent."

In fact, just five aldermen voted with Emanuel 100 percent of the time on split calls over the course of study. The reps set on auto-approve are: Edward M. Burke (14th), Daniel Solis (25th), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Margaret Laurino (39th) and Patrick O'Connor (40th). Within the last two years, the number of aldermen voting with Emanuel less than 90 percent on divided votes has grown to 23 over the last two years, researchers found.

The report notes:

"Despite the slippage in aldermanic support, Mayor Emanuel remains dominant. He is still able to pass his legislation, although his proposed ordinances sometimes have to be modified in negotiations with the aldermen. He is undeniably weaker than in his first term in office."

The most contentious City Council votes were:

• equity in contractor job opportunities for minorities at the airports
• police misconduct;
• regulation of ‘shared economy’ services like Uber and AirBnB;
• massive increases in taxes in the 2016 city budget;
• appropriation of tax increment finance (TIF) funds;
• implementation of the Water and Sewer Tax;
• giving the Chicago Inspector General investigative powers and oversight of aldermen
and their staff; and
• the approval of flavored tobacco sales within 500 feet of elementary schools.

But while signs point to the growing existence of nerve, Rahm still enjoys hefty support. To wit, nearly half of aldermen sided with the mayor between 90 and 99 percent of the time on votes that were divided.


Who, you ask, is leading the charge away from Rahm? The group includes some reformist-minded progressives and—not surprisingly—the Council's lone Republican, Anthony Napolitano. The only four aldermen with a less-than-70-percent rate of Rahm synergy on divided votes were John Arena (45th) - 69 percent, David Moore (17th) - 68 percent, Scott Waguespack (32nd) - 59 percent and Napolitano (Ward 41st) - 52 percent.

Reasons put forth for Rahm's slippage include his runoff election against "Chuy" Garcia, the outrage sparked by Emanuel's handling of the Laquan McDonald tape, Chicago's ongoing bad press in terms of violent crime, diminished popularity among black residents and the rise of the Progressive Caucus.