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The City Council's Regressive Caucus

Well, I guess the article I reported for Chicago magazine on the city council is out, though not yet on their website, so no link yet.

[UPDATE: Link here.]

Here's the truth: I was quite disappointed the piece was repositioned at the end of editing into what I view as a garden-variety city council rubber stamp story; the assignment, reporting and original drafts were focused on how Rahm specifically has dealt with the council, with him as the protaganist in a driving narrative that opened with his own campaign promises of change and closed with the genuflecting of aldermen to Dear Leader at the last council meeting of 2012. Hope folks like it, and the early feedback is good, but the final edit made me queasy. Also lost about a thousand words at the end due to, I guess, slow ad sales. But a full page of art!

But this post isn't to criticize Chicago magazine, for which I'm grateful for the assignment (and the money). They know my views. It's their call. It's to introduce that story to readers as a way to segue into the brazen and bizarre creation this week of a second "progressive" caucus on the council. Normally, this might be news to cheer, seeing as how "progressive" in relation to the council is as much about being "independent" and not in the mayor's pocket as it is about a left-liberal ideology. In this case, it's depressing as hell.

It really doesn't take the kind of reporting I recently finished on the council to understand what's happening, which kind of kills the rationale about the segue, I know, but I think I can explain fairly well:

The new progressive caucus isn't progressive at all and is designed to blunt any traction the real progressive caucus may be picking up as Rahm continues to slip in popularity as he alienates, well, most of the city.

It also seems to be one of a series of moves made by Rahm to tamp down any potential challenge as he prepares for re-election (barring what I view as an unlikely run for president).

"Ten aldermen with ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel broke away from the City Council's Progressive Caucus on Wednesday and launched their own 'Paul Douglas Alliance' with a proposal to give Inspector General Joe Ferguson the power to investigate aldermen," Fran Spielman reported for the Sun-Times on Wednesday.

The new alliance made a smart move by announcing their proposal regarding the inspector general as they announced their own existence, shifting the story at least partially away from the political reason for their being.

Spielman captures it in part in her opening by noting the new alliance's ties to Rahm, but the first half of her story is about the IG issue - which the real progressive caucus also supports. So why the split?

"[Ald. Joe] Moore said the alliance has a 'different approach' than the Progressive Caucus aimed more at solving problems than opposing Emanuel."

I can tell you from my reporting, and simple observation, that the Progressive Caucus, whose positions and members I don't always agree with, is very much interested in solving problems. In fact, they are quite exasperated that the rest of the council is more interested in carrying the mayor's water instead of legislating.

And they are profoundly disappointed with the conversion of Moore from noted (but relative) thorn in the side of Richard M. Daley to elder statesman chum of Rahm Emanuel.

Pressed on whether Emanuel had asked the aldermen to form a more moderate group of progressives, Moore said, "Emphatically no."

I emphatically find this impossible to believe, but there are several ways that Moore's denial may be truthful and still deceitful.

A) Perhaps it was Moore's idea, and he got approval through channels.

B) Perhaps that channel included Rahm's aldermanic floor leader Patrick O'Connor.

C) Perhaps it involved Rahm's aldermanic liaison unit, which keeps a hawk's eye on council doings.

D) Perhaps Moore, or whoever else from the alliance may have dreamed this thing up, didn't need to speak to Rahm; in this city you often just know that what you're doing will be met with approval.

But given the paranoia, vigilance and micromanagement of Rahm and his City Hall goon squad, there's absolutely no way I'm prepared to believe a few councilmembers came up with this idea on their own and didn't run it by anyone on the Fifth Floor. That's just not what they do.

* * *

Why now?

"Earlier this week, seven aldermen who had been meeting as the Progressive Caucus announced plans to 'formalize' their loose-knit organization by approving a set of bylaws, signing a 'statement of principles' and forming a political action committee to accept donations to fund its operations."

Yeah, guys like Moore - and fellow alliance member Joe Moreno, in particular - wouldn't want any part of a "progressivism" that moves beyond convenient branding into actual political action.

* * *

The real progressive caucus:

Alds. Waguespack, Arena, Hairston, Fioretti, Sposato, Munoz, Sawyer, Foulkes and Pawar.

The fake progressive caucus (or, as I suggest we call them, the Regressive Caucus, or maybe the Astrogressives for their ingenius insider astroturfing):

Alds. Moore, Moreno, Reilly, Colon, Osterman, Smith, Cappleman, Burns, Dowell and Pawar.


Or, as a close observer suggested to me, the Bizarro World Progressive Caucus.


Yes, that's right, Pawar is a member of both. Which only says one thing to me: Double agent. Or single.

* * *

From an unsatisfying Chicago Tonight segment last night:

Did you know about this new caucus?

Waguespack: No, I didn't . . .

Munoz: We were a bit surprised because in the paper it was characterized as just another progressive caucus . . .


Moore: There aren't factions . . . times have changed. We have a new mayor, and there are some aldermen who were a little bit uncomfortable with the approach [of the original progressive caucus] . . .


Marin: Are you the mayor's guys?

Not really answered.


Burns: In Springfield, you have to work with Republicans, senators, the governor's office, to build legislative coalitions to get things done . . . that's what I learned in Springfield.

A) And the General Assembly works so well.
B) In the city council, there are no Republicans or senators.


Burns: I haven't had the opportunity [to read the progressive caucus bill calling for a moratorium on school closings].

Munoz: It's been in the rules committee for over 25 days.


Moore: Under the previous mayor, there was very little communication between reform-minded aldermen and the Fifth Floor. This mayor has been a little bit different.

In my reporting I found this to be half-true; some aldermen think this mayor talks to them more than Daley did, and some said just the opposite.

""Maybe the guys who always vote against him can't get [Rahm] on the phone," Ald. Howard Brookins told me, "but I haven't had a problem."

Moore: Rahm Emanuel came in and put [the Clean Power Ordinance] over the finish line.

First, that was a no-brainer. Second, Rahm supported Ald. Danny Solis over challenger Cuahutemoc Morfin, who almost won until Solis's last-minute conversion to supporting the coal plant closures that the ordinance required. Then Solis got additional political cover after all those years of opposing the coal plant closures by joining Moore in co-sponsoring the re-introduction of the ordinance.

Now, maybe Rahm put the squeeze on Solis to get that deal done. Or maybe Solis is just a royal opportunist. Either way, I'm not impressed.


Comment from Jerry Morrison, executive director of the SEIU Illinois State Council, 5/22:

I know exactly how the coal plant came to be shut-down.

The SEIU State Council targeted Danny Solis for defeat because of his stubborn refusal to take his aldermanic hold off of the ordinance.

The Doctors Council, which is a union of physicians, worked with the community and other partnering organizations to conduct a study that revealed that the pollution released by the plant was responsible for killing several dozen of it's neighbors annually.

The Doctor's Council approached their sister unions through the State Council asking to target Solis in the 2011 aldermanic elections.

SEIU spent at least $150,000 on the campaign to unseat Solis and remarkably took the long-time alderman to a run-off using a message solely based on the alderman's financial ties to the coal plant operators.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel reached out to Tom Balanoff, president of the SEIU State Council, and guaranteed that the ordinance would soon pass if Alderman Solis was given a pass in the run-off election.

Receiving the mayor's guarantee and the alderman's support of the ordinance, SEIU pulled back its run-off expenditures against Solis and hence the coal plant was shut down.

Rhodes reply: But wasn't that a bad deal to make - I mean, wouldn't the ordinance have gone through if Morfin won too? Or are you saying Rahm only would have let the ordinance pass if Solis was allowed to win?

Morrison: Morfin couldn't win. We knew that. (We would have had to spend another $250,000 at a minimum.)

It was a great deal for us to cut if there was little hope of ultimately defeating Solis. I believe the national head of the Sierra Club reached out to our national union to thank us for what we did.


Moore: I happen to believe this mayor has shown an ability to listen and communication and adopt some of our ideas.

I happen to believe this mayor has shown a desire to project an image of an ability to listen and communicate and adopt the ideas of others, and he will actually do so only insofar as he feels he politically must. That's why at least one ordinance co-sponsored by the majority of the council is buried in committee, along with several others not likely to see the light of day.

Burns: Our frame is much more interested in actually achieving legislative results.

You don't need a new caucus to do that; legislative "results" are achieved every day when those are the results the mayor seeks. The real progressive caucus, though, has proposed a long list of ideas that the council ought to at least consider but doesn't because Rahm doesn't wish them to.


See also: Second So-Called Progressive Caucus Emerges.


Comments welcome.


1. From Joseph Musco:

I propose calling the new city council caucus the Lollipop Guild.

2. From Mary Lee:

Thanks for calling out the Regressive Caucus for being the hypocrites they are. We need more of this truth-telling. What matters is whether these aldermen, in the end, actually do anything that is progressive, but their track records are terrible.

Cappleman is pretty new, but he is already trying to throw more poor people out of Uptown (and he was supposed to be the candidate with the social worker background who would be more empathetic).

Moore has had a long track record of TALKING about progressivism and opposition to Daley, but when it comes time to actually DOING something, his record is quite different. He voted for the parking meters and the downtown TIF, for example, and he sure got rid of a lot of less wealthy renters in Rogers Park when he took huge campaign contributions from developers to convert many affordable rentals to condos (which, by the way, are now underwater).

He brought yet another charter school to Rogers Park and is dodging any vote to stop more charter funding. He prefers the type of grandstanding progressivism that does not really get things done, like a living wage, or that does not affect his ward, like foie gras.

What is really sad is that the North Side progressive establishment takes all this in stride - I don't see Jan Schakowsky calling out Rahm or any of his hangers-on.

Still, I thank you for writing about this. Please keep it up.


Posted on March 14, 2013

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