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Good Government/Reform Fri May 28 2010

Grades for City, Sunshine on the Aldermen

Thumbnail image for Simpson, Dick.jpgLess than a year from now, Chicagoans will decide whether or not to re-elect Mayor Richard M. Daley -- assuming he throws his hat back in the ring one more time -- and the incumbent aldermen who take another shot at city council.

Voters need a reliable scorecard to grade the performance of city government and a way to track when the mayor and the aldermen agreed and disagreed on the most important issues that came before city council during this past legislative term.

These two tallies are now available in an easy-to-use online format. Click over to to ChicagoDGAP check the Developing Government Accountability to the People Web site, a project for which I provided analysis of aldermanic voting patterns and served as a voting member of the citywide report card committee.

And the grades we gave out to our city government were not encouraging -- overall, the City of Chicago received a D.

City government got a D in the economic development, transportation and criminal justice categories, a D+ in education and the same note for ethics and corruption.

DGAP gave the city an F in housing, seeing a pattern of housing policy that largely benefited the development community and citing the slow rate of bringing back online demolished public housing units.

All the grades were "based upon the extent to which the City of Chicago has worked adequately and fairly to provide for all its residents." The point of view comes from the neighborhoods and everyday residents rather than businesses, political elites or downtown developers.

City government's best grade was a B in environment, a grade based on the city's blue cart recycling program, its commitment to green roofs and its climate action plan, a document that outlines steps the city and residents can take to cut carbon emissions.

But even here there are caveats. The blue cart program has only been implemented in parts of the city and the climate plan is undercut by the continued existence of polluting coal-fired power plants based in Little Village and Pilsen.

Besides the citywide grades, you'll find details about the big votes taken by city council, and how each alderman voted on the most controversial issues that divided the council and required a roll call vote.

It's one of the best features of the site, in my opinion, offering citizens and community organizations a centralized place where they can mull over how their elected official in city council voted on the critical issues. Even better, voters are able to register with the site and grade their alderman.

You'll also find a sector-by-sector breakdown of which industries or organizations are
giving campaign contributions to each specific city council member.

Consider the report card on 2nd Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti.

Fioretti, one of the eight new aldermen first elected in 2007, has voted with Mayor Daley on the divided roll call votes in city council just 42 percent of the time.

That's substantially lower than other council newcomers, like Ald. Pat Dowell in the 3rd
Ward (she voted with the mayor's position 71 percent of the time on the divided votes we tracked) and 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly (who compiled a 64 percent agreement rate with the mayor).

Fioretti's record reflects one of the highest opposition voting rates in the council, and I believe it would be fair to consider him one of the leaders of the council's opposition movement.

Among the votes cast on controversial issues, Fioretti voted against the city budget of 2008, the property tax levy that same year, against a supplemental tax on real estate property tax transfers and against the requirement that city employees to take six furlough days or more.

He stuck with Daley's position on several other high-profile votes, however, including approving the appointment of Jody Weis as police superintendent, for the parking meter lease agreement and for allowing the Chicago Children's Museum build a new facility in Grant Park.

Whether you agree or disagree with any the particular positions on these votes, the point is that holding government officials accountable requires knowledge and transparency.

The DGAP site provides both, and I encourage voters to check it out. Simpson, a former alderman, teaches political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago. This piece first appeared in Chicago Journal.

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