City Council On the Verge of Major Change

There’s a sea change happening in Chicago politics, not just with the mayor’s race, but with many of the 50 City Council races. Dozens of candidates have expressed their intentions to unseat some of the incumbents, and the results of February’s municipal election could shape the city’s future for years to come.

A majority of City Council members could be facing challengers in next year’s elections. And with a new mayor coming in, the entire power dynamic that the city has become accustomed to for nearly 30 years could come to an end. With Mayors Daley and Emanuel, the votes were rarely, if ever, contested. The mayors largely set policy and were able to corral a majority of City Council members behind them, with opposition blocs that were not nearly large enough to derail most efforts. But with a new mayor and potentially new City Council, the dynamic could revert back to the days of the Council Wars and see separate coalitions fight to be heard.

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There are at least three alderpersons who are retiring their seats: Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd Ward, a progressive and Latino stalwart; Ald. Margaret Laurino, 39th Ward, a staunch mayoral ally; and Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th Ward, also an Emanuel ally. Munoz has endorsed a replacement, while the 47th Ward race is wide open

And then, there are the races with declared challengers, and others where challengers have vowed to take on incumbents. After speaking with several aldermen and The Daily Line, a publication that focuses on city politics, some of the more notable challenges include:

Ald. Sue Garza, 10th Ward, a Chicago Teachers Union ally and progressive; powerful longtime Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke, 14th Ward; and Ald. Danny Solis, 25th Ward. City Council floor leader Ald. Pat O’Connor, 40th Ward, has contemplated retiring but has a challenger should he run again. Alds. Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, and James Cappleman, 46th Ward, are both facing challengers as well.

The dynamic to watch is the reinvigorated Bernie Sanders/progressive wing of the party, helmed by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is reportedly very close to announcing a run for mayor even though he is also a Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress. This wing of the party has been tremendously organized in recent years and is attempting to create a City Council that is farther to the left and the democratic socialist model. (Though some progressive incumbents are facing challenges from more moderate business-oriented politicians.)

In the case of Burke, the Sanders wing has been auditioning Latino challengers in that heavily Latino district. They were successful at downing Burke’s brother, Dan Burke, from the Illinois General Assembly and are playing up Burke’s former ties to President Donald Trump – representing him as his Chicago tax attorney

There are dispatches of Burke feeling the heat and going back to the basics of campaigning – walking the neighborhood and knocking on doors to stem the challenge.

So whoever wins the next mayoral race may step into a City Council that’s vastly different from the one today, where a concentration of power in the executive branch is no more, and the fight for the future direction of the city on issues like finances, taxes, and police reform could become messier.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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