Wednesday, June 27, 2012



The Chicago City Council today passed the bill implementing Mayor Emanuel’s plan to ticket, rather than arrest, people for possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. The vote was 43-3 in favor of the effective decriminalization of possession of pot within the city’s borders. The “no” votes were cast by Aldermen Roberto Maldonado (26th), Nick Sposato (36th), and Lona Lane (18th). The main arguments of these three opponents was, effectively, that 15 grams is a lot of grass…enough to roll about 30 joints…and thus might not be for the ticketee’s personal use.

Leave aside the merits of the ordinance; take a look at the lopsidedness of the vote: 43-3. Even if this were the most meritorious, flawless, brilliant legislation in history, one would think that more than three alderpersons would find enough objections to it to vote against it; that is the nature of any form of democratic governance. More disturbingly, this has not been an atypical margin under our new Mayor; indeed, most votes for anything of substance are similarly skewed.

Even in the heyday of Richard J. Daley, Council votes were not that lopsided. One could always count on “No” votes from the likes of Bill Singer, Dick Simpson, Leon Despres, Bill Cousins, and Sammy Rayner. There were even a few Republicans in the Council, like Casey Staszcuk, Ed Scholl, and Joe Potempa, who would occasionally oppose Daley. So, yes, the margins in those relative halcyon days were lopsided, but sometimes as many as ten or twelve votes could be mustered against Richard I. This changed with the advent of Richard II; during Richard M. Daley’s tenure, the Republicans were limited to one guy from the 41st Ward and even liberal independents like Dorothy Tillman and Helen Schiller eventually joined the hosanna chorus and willingly, sometimes eagerly, swallowed whatever the Mayor tossed their way.

It was that completely cowed nature of the Council under Richard II that led to rumblings, after Daley’s announcement of his decision to retire, that the Council was going to reassert itself as a viable and independent legislative body rather than a cheering section for the Guy on the Fifth Floor. There was talk of strong opposition to Rahm Emanuel among aldermen who feared that, with someone of Mr. Emanuel’s, er, self-assuredness, in the mayor’s office, they would blow their fleeting chance at relevance and remain the flock of sheep they were under the Daleys. This opposition was led by Alderman Ed Burke, Chairman of the City Council Finance Committee and dean of the City Council, who actually acted on his opposition to Emanuel’s candidacy by backing Gery Chico for mayor.

Once Rahm Emanuel became mayor, though, this reported self-assuredness by the estimable members of the Council evaporated. Eddy Burke and virtually the whole lot of them fell in line. Because these people are not profiles in courage by nature, Mr. Emanuel is as tough and strong as everyone seems to think (How could one not be tough and strong relative to the lily-livered lilliputians who constitute most of the Council?), Mr. Emanuel has bought them off one way or the other, or some combination of the above, the City Council remains a rubber stamp, an assemblage of sheep, a flock of nonentities.

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