Goodbye, Alderman. Hello, Alderperson

Members of the Chicago City Council meet on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (WTTW News)Members of the Chicago City Council meet on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (WTTW News)

For 184 years, members of the Chicago City Council have been known as aldermen — even though its first female members were elected a half-century ago.

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That is set to change.

Tucked inside a bill designed to making voting easier in Illinois while delaying next spring’s primary is a measure that would change the formal title of the 50 members of the Chicago City Council from alderman to alderperson, continuing a wave of efforts to transform the state’s code to include gender-neutral language.

A full 30% of the City Council elected in 2019 is female, leading to a bit of confusion — and embarrassment, given that the mayor, clerk and treasurer are all female — about what they should be called.

Several aldermen heralded the change as long past overdue.

“We stopped saying mailman, policeman and fireman a long time ago, so it's about time for ‘alderman’ to change,” said Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward). “I would have preferred the term council member, but I'll take this.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) agreed with Cappleman, saying that he also favored council member, pointing to the origin of the title of alderman in Old English.

“I'm not an elder, and I don't preside over a shire,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“We see a lot of ‘hes’ and ‘hims’” in state statute, said state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, who sponsored the change with state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “And now we have, you know, not just women in office, but we have people who may not identify with any gender. We want to make sure that our voting and our election cycle process is inclusive for everyone.”

Also celebrating the change was Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), who introduced a non-binding resolution in March that never got so much as a hearing by the City Council.

Vasquez had more success pushing through a change designed to help transgender Chicagoans access city services. In September, aldermen agreed to change the city code to include the provision that “no form issued by the city shall ask an individual’s sex unless it is necessary for medical reasons or required by another law.” 

When the city does ask for residents to disclose their gender identity with predetermined options those “shall include: ‘male,’ ‘female’ and ‘nonbinary,’” according to city code.

In addition, state lawmakers updated the state’s election code in 2019 to change the title of committeeman to committeeperson. The elected — but unpaid — positions serve as the top Democratic or Republican official in each of Chicago’s 50 wards, and once doled out lucrative patronage jobs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot — the first Black woman and openly gay person to serve as Chicago’s mayor — did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WTTW News. 

Amanda Vinicky contributed to this report. 

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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