| by Kelly Tarrant

Every four years, Chicagoans hit the polls to elect their aldermen.

But mayors—not the people—have appointed 28 aldermen, three city clerks and four city treasurers over the past 28 years.

This power allows the mayor to game elections and establish political dynasties.


How the rules work

In the city of Chicago, when an alderman, clerk or treasurer leaves his or her position earlier than the end of the term, the mayor has authority to fill the vacancy. If the vacancy occurs with at least 28 months left in the four-year term, the mayor can appoint a replacement. If there is less than 28 months left in the term, the mayor can appoint someone as interim, but a special election must be set. The mayor is required to fill the vacancy no later than 60 days after it becomes vacant. If the mayoral seat is vacated, the City Council members vote among themselves for an interim. The “vice mayor” sits in as interim until the council determines the next mayor.

The method of filling these municipal vacancies has slowly evolved to a pseudo-transparent process, but the actual selection remains as opaque as ever. As recently as 2009, for example, Mayor Richard M. Daley would fill an opening by talking with a few people behind closed doors and then announcing his choice when he was ready. But in 2010, when Daley’s popularity began to wane, he opted for a first-time online application to fill two open City Council seats.

“Clearly more people are getting their information from the internet and in this case, we used the city’s website as another vehicle to reach a wider audience,” Daley said. The new process required a committee of local leaders to help determine the finalists. The applicants were vetted for residency and eligibility.


How this power skews the political process

When a mayor has the power to appoint a new alderman, clerk or treasurer, he has created an incumbency protection to that appointee, which many have criticized as an unfair leg-up. Unlike being elected by the voters of the ward, the appointee has been placed into a part-time position with a base pay of $114,000, full health benefits and a pension. The appointment reduces the possible independence of the appointee, whose loyalties will inherently fall to the person who hired him or her, rather than to the residents he or she will serve.

The majority of appointees over the past 28 years were political insiders to City Hall or to the State of Illinois, or simply family members to those who vacated the position. Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed 25 aldermen, one city clerk and three city treasurers. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, since his election in 2011, has appointed three aldermen, two city clerks and one city treasurer.

Today’s City Council now consists of a total of 12 aldermen who were originally appointed:

Additionally, City Treasurer Kurt Summers and City Clerk Anna Valencia were also appointed.

Name Ward Date Appointed Elected to Full Term Appointed By Reason for Vacancy
Proco Joe Moreno 1 2010 2011 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Manny Flores took a position with State of IL
Sophia King 4 2016 2017 Mayor Rahm Emanuel Replaced Ald. Will Burns who took a position with AirBnb
Freddrenna Lyle 6 1998 1999 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. John Steele who became judge
Natashia Holmes 7 2013 2015 Mayor Rahm Emanuel Replaced Ald. Sandi Jackson who was indicted for filing false income tax returns
Darcel Beavers 7 2006 Lost to Sandi Jackson Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced her father Ald. William Beavers when he became Commissioner of Cook County
Michelle Harris 8 2006 2007 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Todd Stroger who became Cook County Board President
Lorraine Dixon 8 1990 1991 Mayor Richard M. Daley Appointed after death of Ald. Keith Caldwell
James Balcer 11 1997 1999 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Patrick Huels resignation after a scandal about his private security firm
Frank Olivo 13 1994 1995 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. John Madrzyk, who was indicted for mail fraud, ghost payrolling bribes and kickbacks
Terry Petersen 17 1996 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Allan Streeter who pleaded guilty to bribery
Latasha Thomas 17 2000 2003 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Terry Petersen who became head of the CHA
Lona Lane 18 2006 2007 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Thomas Murphy who became a judge
Virginia Rugai 19 1990 1991 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Michael Sheehan who became Cook County State’s Attorney
Leonard DeVille 21 1997 Lost to Howard Brookins Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Jesse Evans who plead guilty to extortion and racketeering
Ricardo Munoz 22 1993 1995 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia who joined the Illinois Senate
Daniel Solis 25 1996 1999 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, who resigned after pleading guilty to extortion, bribery, and ghost payrolling
Roberto Maldonado 26 2009 2011 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Billy Ocasio who took a position with the state
Jason Ervin 28 2011 2015 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Ed Smith, who resigned
Deborah Graham 29 2010 2011 Mayor Richard M. Daley Appointed to complete convicted Ald. Issac Carother’s term after he pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges
Deb Mell 33 2013 2015 Mayor Rahm Emanuel Replaced her father Ald. Dick Mell who retired
Carrie Austin 34 1994 1995 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced her late husband Ald. Lemuel Austin, Jr.
John Rice 36 2009 2011 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. William Banks who retired
Emma Mitts 37 2000 2003 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Percy Giles who was indicted in “Operation Silver Shovel” for taking bribes and for tax evasion
Timothy Cullerton 38 2011 2011 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced his brother-in-law Ald. Thomas Allen who became a judge
Margaret Laurino 39 1994 1995 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced her father Ald. Anthony Laurino, who was in poor health
Tom Tunney 44 2002 2003 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced retiring Ald. Bernie Hansen
Mary Ann Smith 48 1989 1991 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. Kathy Osterman who retired
Bob Clarke 49 1990 Lost to Joseph Moore Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Ald. David Orr when Orr became County Clerk
Earnest Wish City Clerk 1993 1995 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Clerk Walter Kozubowski who was indicted for corruption
Miguel del Valle City Clerk 2006 2011 Mayor Rahm Emanuel Replaced Clerk James Laski who was indicted for corruption
Ana Valencia City Clerk 2017 Mayor Rahm Emanuel Replaced Clerk Susana Mendoza who became Illinois State Comptroller
Miriam Santos City Treasurer 1989 1991 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Treasurer Cecil Partee who became Cook County State’s Attorney after Richard M. Daley became Mayor of Chicago
Judy Rice City Treasurer 2000 2003 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Treasurer Miriam Santos who plead guilty to corruption.
Stephanie Neely City Treasurer 2006 2011 Mayor Richard M. Daley Replaced Clerk Judith Rice who resigned
Kurt Summers City Treasurer 2014 2015 Mayor Rahm Emanuel Replaced Clerk Stephanie Neely who resigned

 


New York, Los Angeles and Houston among major cities that let votersnot the mayordecide who should fill vacant positions

Those who favor mayoral authority to fill vacant seats say this process ensures vacancies will not disrupt the governmental process and argue that special elections can be costly. Other large cities, however, set a different precedent. The City of New York requires a special election to occur within three days of a vacancy. The New York mayor proclaims a special election date and the ballot petition process begins. The City of Los Angeles requires a special election to fill a vacant council seat per the Los Angeles City Charter. The City of Houston requires a special election per election code. In all of these cases, the democratic process of holding elections is preserved.

The rights of the citizens to elect its members of council is of utmost importance. In Chicago, the top-down process of appointments rewards political insiders and takes away voters’ rights to truly decide who best can represent their needs. Chicago’s appointment system needs to be re-evaluated to put voters back in power.