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TODAY

Monday, October 14

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Airbags

Perennial mayoral side-thorn Dr. Dick Simpson, one-time independent firebrand alderman from the lakefront 44th Ward, has released his latest Report Card on the City Council. This latest report evaluates the composition of the most recent elected council (sworn in April 2003) and looks at their voting trends in relation to the mayor's stated position. His conclusion, quite astutely, is that although the Regular Democratic Organization's vote-generating machine has clearly declined into marginal importance, the Fifth Floor has been remarkably adept at dividing and conquering the opposition and cowing what should be a natural caucus of opposition. The study looks specifically at eight divided roll call votes, the most important votes of the 2003 Council, and reveals that on these important votes, 43 of 50 alderman voted with the mayor 70 percent of the time or more. Twelve voted with him 100 percent of the time.

The most interesting part of the study is the discussion of whether the opposition the mayor faced on issues of housing, the PATRIOT Act, and the two Wal-Mart votes constitutes the beginning of an organized resistance to the Fifth Floor, or at least a loyal opposition offering a different view of where Chicago should go and just how the path should look. Simpson doesn't seem to think so, and neither does independent lakefront alderman Joe Moore (49th):

It is the current climate of the times. There is a lack of any cutting edge issues such as the Vietnam War or Civil Rights. And there are no egregious actions on the part of the Daley administration as there had been in Richard J. Daley's time... Each time there is an abuse [such as corruption] Mayor Daley offers a new round of ethics ordinances to combat it. Therefore, [liberal] Lakefront voters think the city is run efficiently with no egregious corruption or waste.

Surely, the indictments that have come streaming from the Hired Truck Scandal, ballooning into the Water Department (the last safe harbor for patronage positions) and into several political operations will hurt the mayor's legacy and effectively end the generally scandal-free halcyon period he was experiencing since his third election in 1999. However, they lack the front-page shock value that would otherwise galvanize opposition and lead to the formation of an effective dissenting caucus. Richard J. Daley had civil rights and the Vietnam War; Richard M. has avoided his father's mistake by removing himself publicly from Democratic Party politics -- he doesn't even hold any real post in the Illinois Democratic Party. Although the mayor is still presumably the most powerful Democrat in the state, most Chicago voters don't see him that way -- they see him as the city manager with his name on all the signs. This makes it difficult to rally politically conscious lakefront liberals and issue-focused community organizations to get together and gestate an opposition movement based on larger issues.

Nevertheless, Mayor Daley is getting older and he has had health scares. With all of the personal tragedies in his personal life -- including the death of a child a few years ago and his wife's being diagnosed with breast cancer -- his time in office is rapidly nearing an end. He will probably run again in 2007, when he'll turn 65. So the 2007 municipal elections will be the staging ground for the mayoral fight of 2011. The next election will be the perfect time to lay the groundwork for an organization and an opposition to go after the anointed candidate.

Several sitting alderman are likely to vie for the Regular endorsement in the likely event that Daley doesn't run again in 2011. Contrarily, look for several big name outsiders to also put their names down in the running as the opposition. Coming in as the outsider, no matter how big a name they are, will be an uphill struggle. Even many of the supposed "independents" on the Council benefit greatly from the status quo and have more to lose from seeing the current Council shaken up, no matter what ethical improvements are made.

It is likely that there will be three or four viable candidates, and being the heir apparent will be a liability -- so watch for individual council members to try to introduce some "signature" legislation or pick up on some cause or another. Depending on the political atmosphere surrounding the Fifth Floor over the next few years, the recent dust-ups in the Council Chambers could either harden into an opposition caucus, or completely melt away into a loyalty contest.

Whatever the case, 2007 will be a fun election -- but 2011 will be bloody.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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