Mar 30, 2023 - Politics

Chicago City Council goes independent

Illustration of Chicago City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Chicago City Council rubber stamp may be out of ink.

Driving the news: In a historic move Thursday, council members voted to make their governing body a co-equal branch of government.

  • Previously, the council allowed the mayor to determine legislative agendas and committee chairs. Now the council will do it.
  • Its first move: boosting the number of committees to 28 from 19.

Yes, but: Those new committees are estimated to cost at least $2.5 million more annually, and the council hasn't said how they'll be funded.

The big picture: Chicago joins most other major U.S. cities in having an independent council.

The intrigue: Some critics of the move accuse the lame-duck council, led by allies of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, of vote-buying to push the plan through. The two mayoral candidates were not consulted.

  • And while there are more committees, there will be fewer members on them under the plan — 11 compared with the existing 20. Some critics warn that smaller committees will be able to push legislation through with fewer votes.

What they're saying: "I am embarrassed to be a Chicagoan today," Ald. Anthony Beale told reporters after the vote.

  • "You all should be embarrassed to call yourselves elected officials to try to ram this through. … I don't know how y'all sleep at night."

In a statement, the mayor praised the move as "an opportunity to put the interest of Chicagoans front and center."

  • But she warned, "If this expansion to 28 committees and other reorganization efforts do not have consistent wins on behalf of our residents, it will be viewed in a far less favorable light."

What's next: The council will approve committee assignments after the April 4 runoff elections.

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