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Emanuel Denies He Wants To Cut City Council In Half

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Rahm Emanuel at Save-A-Lot

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference at a Save-A-Lot grocery store on the city’s South Side on March 3, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 03/25/11 10:27 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is denying a published report Friday that claims he wants to cut the size of the City Council in half.

Emanuel representatives tell CBS 2 the Chicago Sun-Times story is the “creation” of a reporter, and say they are not proposing a reduction in size the City Council.

WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports while Emanuel may not be proposing the change, the idea has been discussed with aldermen who were asked to come up with ways to cut the city’s budget.

An Emanuel representative confirms that the mayor-elect has had discussions with aldermen about reforming the City Council.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday morning that Emanuel had talked to aldermen specifically about the idea of reducing the City Council to 25 seats.

Some think a smaller City Council could help save money, particularly given that the city is in dire financial straits. Others say there are too many problems in the city, so shrinking the manpower would make it harder for constituents to get in touch with their aldermen, according to Spielman’s report.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Bernie Tafoya reports

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s John Cody has analysis from UIC Professor Dick Simpson

Currently, Chicago taxpayers spend $19.5 million per year to maintain the 50 aldermen, and another $4.7 million to pay for 19 standing committees, Spielman reported.

One man Friday morning said he thought cutting the City Council was a good idea.

“I don’t know why we have so many aldermen,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a historical precedent for it, but I support any effort to reduce the number of aldermen and reduce the costs of governing the city.”

But another man, David Hill, said the Council needs to remain at its current size — or maybe even grow.

“We need all 50. we probably need more, because the city is at a downfall,” he said. “It’s not up like it used to be. With more aldermen, more problems would be solved,” while if the Council were slashed in half, “the city would really go to destruction.”

Chicago has one of the largest city councils in the country.

The only city with a larger city council is New York, which has 51 City Council members. But they are spread across five boroughs, all but one of which has an individual population of more than 1 million people. Manhattan has 10 aldermen, Brooklyn 16, Queens 14, the Bronx eight, and Staten Island three.

Los Angeles, which has a larger population than Chicago, has only 15 City Council members. Detroit, the second largest city in the Midwest region, has only nine.

At one time, the Chicago City Council was actually larger than it is now. From 1901 to 1923, there were 70 aldermen, with two aldermen per ward for each of 35 wards. The two aldermen in each ward served alternating terms so that one of them would be up for reelection every year, the Better Government Association recalls.

The idea of reducing the number of aldermen further has been bandied about for years, although not by a mayor or mayor-elect.

A December analysis by the Better Government Association called for reducing the number of aldermen to 25 for a savings of $2.7 million in salaries for aldermen, and another $4.4 million by cutting the three staffers each alderman employs.

Whatever the case, the mayor cannot unilaterally cut the City Council. Any change in the Council structure would have to be made by the Illinois General Assembly, or by Chicago voters through a binding referendum.

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