Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the City Council Meeting. Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times
Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some big shoes to fill when he took over for Mayor Richard M. Daley when he was inaugurated as mayor in May 2011. But according to a study released by the University of Illinois-Chicago, the City Council has been more compliant with Rahm in his first two years than they were with Richard J. Daley during his first two years in office and more than Richard M. Daley had in his final two years in office. Dick Simpson, a political science professor at UIC and a former alderman (44th ward, 1971-1979), headed the study which looked at "30 divided roll call votes since the current City Council began in May, 2011." (Grain of salt #1: even just one alderman dissenting is enough to categorize a vote as a "divided roll call.")
Per a press release on the study: "According to the study, 21 aldermen voted to support Mayor Emanuel's position 100% of the time and 18 aldermen voted with him over 90% of the time. Only seven of the 30 issues drew six or more dissenting votes." The study follows up that the issue with the most dissent was Mayor Emanuel's proposal to put cameras in "Children Safety Zones" around schools. That vote had 33 vote in favor and 14 dissent (three voted absent).
The study continues: "The average level of support for Mayor Emanuel was 93% on all divided roll call votes, an increase from the overwhelming 88% Richard M. Daley enjoyed in his last term. It was also greater than the 83% achieved by Richard J. Daley in his first two years in office, 1955-56, or the 85% support the 'Boss' received in 1971-72. Emanuel even topped Mayor Edward J. Kelly's 88% support earned in 1939-40."
Of course, Grain of Salt #2: the study doesn't include results from every term for both Daleys, thus not showing a large portion of years in which they had particular sway over the City Council. It's unfair to match Rahm's first two years against Daley's final few years as support for Daley had begun to wane a bit - at least in the context of Daley's support - in his final term. And every Chicagoan knows the power with which the "Boss" and the Machine ruled the Council in the 50s and 60s.
The underlying fact that's not quite teased out by the study but is there for all to see? The City Council is pretty much a legislative body in name only, rarely making any difference in the laws the mayor of Chicago - whomever it may be - has passed, with at least 80-85 percent of aldermen voting with the mayor no matter who's in office. Lest we forget, only five aldermen voted against the horrendous parking meter lease in 2008.
And the only vote Mayor Emanuel has lost in his first two years was an attempt at ethics reform that would have empowered the City Council's Inspector General to investigate anonymous complaints against aldermen and their employees. And the rejected bill had been watered down from its original proposal. It took a measure that would have put a dent in their own insulation to get aldermen to actually say no to the mayor.
So, if anything is to be concluded from the study, it's simply that history will continue to repeat in Chicago, a city that never met reform it didn't love to kill.