No-Show Aldermen Doom Meter, Police Referenda

December 6, 2010

Mick Dumke, Chicago News Cooperative

Mayor Richard M. Daley may be on his way out and the City Council may be on the verge of historic turnover, but that doesn’t mean the reformers are taking over just yet.

As expected, most aldermen didn’t show up today for a special City Council meeting called by a trio of their independent-minded colleagues who want to ask voters to weigh in on the two greatest sources of dissatisfaction with Chicago city government.

Aldermen Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward), Rey Colon (35th), and Joe Moore (49th) called the meeting to try to force a vote on a non-binding (i.e., toothless) resolution that had minimal chances of passing as a way to show they’re doing something about the city’s cop shortage and parking meter lease deal. The resolution called for non-binding referenda to be placed on the municipal election ballot in February asking voters if the parking meter agreement should be renegotiated, the city should hire more police, and budget shortfalls should be aided by a transaction tax on financial traders.

“It would have been a victory if we’d had a quorum,” said Moore.

But they didn’t. Just 11 aldermen showed up, 15 short of a quorum.

“It wasn’t a shock, though one would have hoped for more people to show up, given the political resonance of these issues,” said Moore. “People are talking about these issues all over the city.”

The meter deal and crime have emerged as hot topics in the race for mayor and in aldermanic campaigns all over town. Munoz and Moore both voted for the meter agreement but have criticized it since. Colon was one of five no votes on the meter agreement, but all three aldermen face multiple opponents in their re-election bids. Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the firm that now controls the meter system, is scheduled to raise meter rates again in January.

“People keep talking about the meters as ‘Daley’s deal,’” said 32nd Ward AldermanScott Waguespack, who voted against the meter privatization and supports the referenda.

But the measure wasn’t even backed by all the aldermen who did show up for the meeting.

“I don’t know that referenda are the best ways to deal with those kinds of issues,” said 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke, chairman of the council’s finance committee.

Burke and Munoz waged a proxy war of sorts in the Democratic primaries last February, when Munoz backed a losing challenger to Burke’s brother Dan Burke, a state representative, and a winning candidate against Joseph Moreno, a county commissioner.

But Burke cited other reasons for opposing the referenda. He noted that state law would have to be changed to impose the financial trading tax and said the city didn’t have the money to hire hundreds of additional police, though everyone would like them. He also dismissed the idea of retooling the meter agreement. “A contract is a contract,” he said.

Munoz argued that contracts are renegotiated all the time. He also said he wasn’t worried about the costs of getting out of the meter deal. Most of the $1.2 billion the city reaped from the agreement has already been spent, and under terms of the contract the city would have to pay even more to opt out of it.

“That’s our problem to have if we can renegotiate it,” Munoz said. “You don’t pass up a chance to refinance your house just because you’ve spent the money from your previous loan.”

Moore said he had been told that aides to the mayor pressured aldermen not to attend the meeting.

“A quorum would be seen as a direct attack on the administration,” said Waguespack, who attended the meeting.

The mayor’s press office didn’t respond for a request for comment.

“Democracy needs a lot more work,” City Clerk Miguel del Valle, a mayoral candidate, told reporters after the meeting.