It’s a new dawn, a new day, and Lori Lightfoot did not come here to play. On day one of her new position as the first black woman to lead Chicago as mayor, Lightfoot is bringing a swift end to Chicago’s tradition of “aldermanic privilege” that granted council members sweeping veto power over zoning and licensing permits.
According to the Huffington Post, Lightfoot signed her first executive order to end what she called “the worst abuses” committed by some of the 50 aldermen who make up the Chicago City Council. Aldermanic privilege—more formally known as aldermanic prerogative—gives the local lawmakers absolute power within their positions, but, technically, it’s the result of longstanding custom since those veto powers aren’t actually codified in city law.
With Lightfoot’s executive order, city departments must now report to Lightfoot within the next 60 days to describe its decision-making process, including when it has accepted aldermanic prerogative “as a matter of custom or practice.” These reports must also state what the departments are doing to be in compliance with Lightfoot’s order moving forward. Lightfoot has directed city departments to stop deferring to aldermanic privilege “in their decision-making practice unless expressly required by the Municipal Code of Chicago.”
The mayor stressed that aldermen will still have a voice in departmental decision-making, but not veto power.
Aldermanic privilege has long been controversial. Recently, federal authorities charged Alderman Edward Burke, Chicago’s longest-serving council member ever, with attempted extortion for allegedly threatening to halt the approval of remodeling plans for a local Burger King unless his law firm was hired for tax work. These types of illegal kickbacks have run rampant in aldermanic dealings. Burke denied wrongdoing and still won reelection as alderman shortly after.
“These practices have gone on here for decades. This practice breeds corruption,” Lightfoot said at her inauguration, facing some aldermen in the audience directly. “Stopping it isn’t just in the city’s interest; it’s in the City Council’s own interest.”
Some alderman, such as Anthony Beale, aren’t going out without a fight. Beale claims the mayor’s executive order “means absolutely nothing.”
“It’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” he told the Chicago Tribune.
Lightfoot made history Monday after her historic inauguration placed her as the city’s first openly gay and first black female mayor.
“For years, they’ve said, ‘Chicago ain’t ready for reform,’” Lori Lightfoot declared. “Well, get ready because reform is here.”