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Thursday, December 7

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City Council Wed Aug 04 2010

A Remade City Council and Mayor Daley's Last Term

Is Machine Lite doomed?

Chicagoist's political guru Kevin Robinson reports on rumored aldermanic retirements before the upcoming February 2011 municipal elections, indicating that we may end up seeing as many as nine or 10 new faces in the City Council by next year, to add to the half dozen or so freshmen who came in in 2007. If this scenario plays out, seasoned mayoral allies could be replaced by neophytes, always an unwelcome change for a long-time incumbent executive.

If the Mayor runs again (and I don't see how he can't), he'll almost certainly win, though with a significantly smaller margin, even if he only gets token resistance from a dimly suicidal opponent. That potential challenge will certainly not be what dissuades him; in fact, a challenger emerging will probably whet his appetite and prove he's still got the muscle -- and perhaps more importantly to his psyche, the popular support -- to crush all comers.

What will make an eighth term look unappetizing to Chicago's soon-to-be longest-serving mayor is a rowdy City Council. It's not just the upstarts and independents that could cause trouble -- the surest way to get on the local news is to be an elected official calling out the Mayor -- but the new faces replacing old friends, who won't have the organizational strength or personal relationships necessary to squash beefs and hold the line.

This is why Daley regularly freaks out* when he gets even token dissent to his initiatives. His is a "hang together or hang separately" model of legislative liaison, which Robinson alludes to indirectly in his post:

Who stays and who goes remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure heading into this election cycle: voters are pissed off. Much of that anger is the product of decisions that Mayor Daley has made, but the fact that aldermen have backed those decisions, often without debate or dissent in the council, means that vulnerable aldermen could face a tough race this coming season.

[my emphasis]

When there are blocs against a vote, it creates a contrast that weakens his allies. That unanimity is critical to keeping turnout low and alternatives hard to identify. But the Mayor's old warhorses are fading away, his allies in the Council can't come as heavy as they used to, and toadyism and purges have thinned his ranks of capable field generals. Public stands against the mayor fuel the same, in a positive feedback loop that makes the type of top-down decision-making Daley savors mechanically impossible. Chicago's Strong Council-Weak Mayor system is dangerous when there're wily (and attention-hungry) legislators with a quorum. Just ask Ed Burke.

Instead, the mayor's bulldogs are bureaucratic operators like Ron Huberman and Juan Rangel. For Mayor Daley, the appearance of dissent is as dangerous as dissent itself, and he's increasingly surrounded by people who derive their power from him rather than from their own constituencies. With that being the case, once his sheen of invincibility dulls, his ability to fight back and rely on allies to provide support diminishes geometrically.

It's a trickle of bad news for His Elective Majesty. No wonder he decided to write his State of the City speech about some alternate universe Chicago.

*Comme ca:

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