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:
- Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward)
- Alderman Sophia King (4th Ward)
- Alderman Michelle Harris (8th Ward)
- Alderman Rick Munoz (22nd Ward)
- Alderman Daniel Solis (25th Ward)
- Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward)
- Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward)
- Alderman Deb Mell (33rd Ward)
- Alderman Carrie Austin (34th Ward)
- Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward)
- Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th Ward)
- Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward)
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 voters—not the mayor—decide 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.