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The Mechanics
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Election 2011 Wed Jan 19 2011

The Next Mayor's Power Instinct

Miguel Del Valle is being considered the progressive candidate for a variety of reasons. His record of independence from so-called "Machine politics" is considerably free of the spots found in those of Emanuel and Chico in particular; no organizational or professional ties to Mayor Daley. His policy positions on schools and teachers, the environment, and housing position him to the left of the field. While these positions are more liberal, they are also not controversial; meaning that, generally speaking, they are probably not significantly to the left of the average Chicagoan.

But there's something deeper in Del Valle's politics that may warm the cockles of a progressive's heart while simultaneously causing the city's power players, including its media organizations, to tremble with febrile dreams.

Based on his public statements about the relationship of the Mayor to the City Council, Del Valle appears to believe that conflict compels collaboration which leads to stronger results. In other words, by formally decentralizing power so that no one party or institution can simply act-and-make-so, they will be forced to negotiate one with the other on terms equitable to each, and thereby the best feasible solution will emerge.

Del Valle told the Sun-Times this:

Q. What would you do differently as mayor?

A. I would start with sharing responsibility with the City Council for the tough decisions that have to be made. I want a strong mayor and a strong Council. I think the Council, through its processes, has to deliberate, unlike in the past. They have to grapple with these tough issues, such as: Where is new revenue going to come from? Where are we going to make budget cuts? If you are talking about a meter privatization plan or a lease plan, you want a lot more deliberation. Under my administration, I predict you're going to see many more divided roll calls from deliberation and debate and some real soul-searching on the part of aldermen.

Q. You're promising to bring divisiveness to the City Council?

A. I am promising to bring a process of deliberation that will have aldermen assume more responsibility. If you've got a proposal to lease Midway Airport, that has to be kicked around for a while. All the small print needs to be looked at. We need proponents and opponents chiming in.

Q. Shouldn't it just be one day the aldermen are presented with it: Vote "yes'' or "no?''

A. No! [He laughs.] Those days will be over under my administration.

Q. Daley prided himself on 49-1, 48-2 roll calls on his budget. What's the problem with that?

A. I'm different. I think there is a problem with that. That has to change. It doesn't mean that the mayor is going to just turn over everything to the City Council. What will be different is I won't say, "That is the only proposal that is going to be considered." I will encourage people to modify, strengthen my proposal. I think Council oversight over contracts above a certain level is certainly in order. The more eyes you have on something the better -- more scrutiny, more transparency.

This approach may or may not be "right," but it is certainly very progressive. Progressivism as a political program is built on the idea that the more people that participate, the more creative and representative (thus fair) governance can be. Devolving power downward is the bedrock of American progressivism: thus the early progressive focus on women's suffrage and direct election of Senators, the seventeenth and nineteenth amendments. This comes from somewhere; it wasn't an arbitrary choice or considered without appreciation for the likely results. Advocates of women's suffrage didn't just argue that it was "fair," they made a case for why it was better than the status quo.

The Sun-Times pokes a little fun at Del Valle, saying that it sounded like he wants to make things more chaotic, and this is a very Chicago-power-politics sentiment; lack of strong authority will lead to disputation and stagnancy. This isn't the case, though. There's a process-management theory of negotiation known as the "mutual gains approach," advocated by theorists (and high-priced consultants) at Harvard and M.I.T., that emphasizes a sort of "disarmament" approach to negotiation that invites parties to participate fully in public negotiations, with open access to fact-finding as one of its basic principles. In government, this requires, and compels, ever-more transparency. Where multiples parties have somewhat equal roles in reaching a decision to act, information must be shared.

Not to be cute or anything, but doesn't that sound like it could have prevented, say, the parking meter lease?

Oh snap! Give it up for process nerds on this one. One man's chaos is another man's productive order.

If this sounds like so much abstract, irrelevant musing, think of it like this. The next mayor will have the ability to hand power back to the City Council and empower citizens to participate fully in government. If they honestly believe that the city would avoid disastrous mistakes and find creative solutions to problems by doing so, wouldn't they be more likely to actually do so?

Ok. So should we be asking the candidates what specifically they would do to empower the City Council and neighborhood residents?

Now, it may well be that you think the city needs a strong Mayor to operate smoothly, and that empowering citizens and the City Council to operate at a level of authority closer to the Mayor's would create chaos and merely permit special interests to dominate government. I would disagree, but even then, shouldn't you want to know how your guy or gal plans to govern?

For a start: How will the Council and citizens be incorporated into budgeting? How will the city disperse federal and state funds for economic development? Will bodies be created to govern TIFs? What about Local School Councils and Park Local Advisory Councils? Will residents have statutory powers to influence land use decisions?

I don't think these are the types of questions that are overly-policy-specific and that the candidates can't answer. They're pretty good questions, I think, because they ultimately boil down to: "How will you organize the government?"

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Crimson / January 19, 2011 2:46 PM

Please get your facts right. Miguel Del Valle has professional ties to Mayor Daley and more. He accepted the appointment to the Clerk Office; Running with Mayor Daley, fulfilling what Daley wanted by having him as the Latino on the city-wide ballot.

Ben / January 19, 2011 4:58 PM

Crimson, everyone that works in Chicago has some kind of tie to Daley. Daley brought Miguel in to run the City Clerks office because he knew that Miguel was the only person who could come in there and clean it up. That's exactly what Miguel did. He cleaned up the corrupt cesspool that was the Clerk's office and broke the streak of City Clerks that have been arrested for corruption.

Matt / January 19, 2011 7:41 PM

This sounds like something I once heard about. I think it's called democracy.

Frankie / January 20, 2011 8:22 AM

Interesting post, but I'm not sure that enfranchising the City Council is the same as enfranchising Chicago citizens. I appreciate the value of dissent in representative government, but I am hesitant to think of this as anything other than an means towards enacting progressive values.

Traditionally, the Chicago City Council has been one of the least progressive legislative bodies in Cook County--concentrating power in local machine ward organizations and openly blocking reform (think about what happened to Washington and Byrne). Power does move downward from the Mayor's office in Chicago, but only to a particular set.

Also, I don't know much about mutual gains theory, but it seems like it doesn't apply very well to political negotiations, which ultimately are a win-lose game since only one party can win, i.e. be elected?

Ramsin / January 20, 2011 2:14 PM

On your last point, Frankie, the negotiation here is not an electoral one but a policy one; i.e., you bring interested parties to the table and come up with a *policy* solution.

The City Council isn't necessarily progressive, but the idea is to elevate citizens groups as well as the Council; and this isn't the Vrdolyak 29 Council any more. With a wave of retirements and recent victories for independent candidates beginning in 2007, the Council is more diverse, less centralized, and less in thrall to local machines than it was in the 80s.

Anne / January 22, 2011 3:41 PM

I like his approach and his positions on the issues. I just wish that he was doing better in getting his message out.

Emanuel, Braun and Chico are much more successful at getting media coverage, and they're burying him in that respect.

Chris / January 24, 2011 12:12 AM


I guess that since Miguel has ties to Mayor Daley we should just vote for the candidate that Mayor Daley wants (Emanuel), the candidate that served in Mayor Daley's administration in several positions (Chico), or the candidate who has a lot of baggage and can't stop hurting her candidacy and has Victor Reyes, a former leader of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, in a campaign position (Braun).

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