9 new aldermen, old demands at City Council
May 23, 2007 (WLS) -- No vacation for Chicago's nine new aldermen who attended their first City Council meeting since being sworn in on Monday. Some of the city's most controversial issues came up during Wednesday's council session.
City Hall was rocking Wednesday morning as noisy demonstrators welcomed new aldermen with old demands. And some of the freshmen signed on immediately to the concept of a big-box living wage ordinance for low-paying retailers like Wal-Mart. The new council members also got a lesson in who does and doesn't have power, but that came after a little schmoozing with City Hall's Mr. Big.
Mayor Daley spent some face-time with several of the new aldermen before their first full City Council meeting began Wednesday morning. All nine of the new members are getting engraved plaques for the walls of their offices. But they haven't paid their dues yet, so not a single one of them is getting a seat on the four most powerful city council committees, finance, budget, zoning or police.
" That would not be unusual. Ordinarily, those committees give great credit to seniority," said Ald. Ed Burke, finance chairman.
"We're freshmen. This is our first City Council meeting and so we're going to have to work our way up," said Ald. Sandi Jackson, 7th Ward.
The new aldermen may not be getting the best committee assignments, but they can tip the balance of power in the council. And Wednesday, at a rally before the meeting, some of them are joining supporters of the big-box living wage ordinance that Daley vetoed last year to say that giant retailers like Wal-Mart won't be welcome in their wards unless they raise salaries and benefits considerably.
"If they're not willing to address those very basic threshold issues, then I think we have very little to talk about right now," said Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward.
Alderman Toni Foulkes, 15th Ward, said big-boxes aren't welcome unless they pay a living wage. "Simple as that," she said. "Pay the people. And they can afford it."
"I am so please to have a number of colleagues who will be joining us who share those basic principles," said Ald. Joe Moore, sponsor of big-box ordinance.
"If you want sales tax, if you want real estate taxes, if you want jobs, just like the suburban area, love to have them. You go to Cicero, look at it, they're all lined up. In the city of Cicero no one objects to them," said Mayor Richard Daley.
The mayor isn't saying that he will veto another big-box ordinance because he doesn't want to give supporters new ammunition, especially when it's not clear when, or if, a new proposal will be presented and whether it will be like the old man that mandated higher wages and benefits from big retailer who want to locate in Chicago. But sooner or later, the living wage will be back in some form, and sooner or later, the new alderman will get seats on the key committees.
Alderman demand hearings on police torture report
Chicago aldermen are demanding city council hearings into last year's report on alleged police torture of murder suspects by John Burge and members of his police unit. The aldermen want the authors of the court-ordered report to explain why Burge has never been indicted or stripped of his police pension and why Mayor Daley, who was state's attorney at the time, hasn't been held accountable for not filing charges against the Burge unit.
"I'm concerned about justice. I'm concerned about 200 people who were allegedly brutalized while they were in jail," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.
Alderman Smith is one of 26 council members signing on to a black caucus initiative led by Toni Preckwinkle, who says a report on alleged police torture in a South Side district run by former Commander John Burge between 1973 and 1993 didn't recommend that Burge be indicted or stripped of his city pension, and it wasn't hard enough on Mayor Daley, who was state's attorney at the time, or the current state's attorney, Dick Devine, who was Daley's first deputy, for not prosecuting Burge or the other cops who alleged tortured dozens of suspects in police custody.
"I think there wasn't sufficient attention paid to the role of the sheriff's deputy at the time," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 5th Ward.
The chairman of the police committee is promising to schedule a hearing to get some answers to the lingering questions, even if it's uncomfortable for the mayor.
"His actions or inactions are fair game at a hearing like this," said Ald. Isaac "Ike" Carothers, police committee chairman.
"I was not the mayor or superintendent at that time," said Mayor Richard Daley.
Daley has never acknowledged responsibility for not prosecuting Burge or the other alleged torturers, and that's wrong, according to a lawyer for multiple torture victims.
"Both he and Devine should have prosecuted John Burge. They had the opportunity to do so and did not do so," said Flint Taylor, victims' attorney.
The attorneys in one of the civil cases against the city have come forward, and they're planning to question Daley under oath if their request survives a court appeal. The Burge case has already cost Chicago taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and court settlements, and the two sides are still arguing over another $15 million, all of which infuriates aldermen who call the entire Burge episode, including last year's report, a total miscarriage of justice.
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