Feb 16, 2022 - Politics

Thompson's conviction sparks aldermanic reform conversations

Happy politician
Then-11th Ward aldermanic candidate Patrick Daley Thompson reacts to seeing his live image on TV while giving a speech in 2015. Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson was convicted on Monday night of federal tax charges.

  • According to state law, he must immediately resign.

Why it matters: Mayor Lori Lightfoot gets to appoint Thompson's replacement in the 11th Ward. The mayor presides over the city council and can appoint allies to help curry favor in a contentious council, setting up possible conflicts of interests.

  • Chicago is the only major city in the country that handles appointments this way and not through special elections.

What they're saying: "While the characters are always changing, this process is just one example of how the old Chicago way persists in the structure of our city government," Austin Berg, co-author of "The New Chicago Way," tells Axios. "Chicagoans deserve much better."

Context: Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed 28 aldermen during his 22-year tenure.

  • "Long-serving mayors like Richard M. Daley eventually appointed a large number of aldermen, which made them dependent upon him and helped create rubber-stamp city councils," UIC political science professor and former alderman Dick Simpson tells Axios.
  • "There probably needs to be limits on the appointment power."

Yes, but: The mayoral appointment process is baked into the Illinois Municipal Code and can only be changed if the state legislature and the governor vote to do so.

What's next: Mayor Lightfoot has 60 days to appoint a new alderperson.

  • "Alderman Patrick Thompson has been judged by a jury of his peers and found guilty," Lightfoot said in a statement. "This week, we will be outlining an open and transparent process to fill the vacancy."
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