CHICAGO (CBS) — The 2019 city elections began with three Chicago aldermen in the hot seat for different reasons, and with the election next week, the fate of all 50 members of the City Council is up in the air.
It got us wondering, do we need so many aldermen in the first place? CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory crunches the numbers.
Ald. Edward Burke was charged with attempted extortion, Ald. Ricardo Munoz was arrested for domestic battery, and Ald. Joe Moreno is under investigation for possibly filing a false police report about a stolen car. Three major headlines for the City Council in just 34 days.
History is not on the side of these troubled aldermen. More than 30 people who once served in City Hall also have called federal prison home.
Does Chicago need fewer aldermen?
“Chicago wouldn’t be better served by less aldermen, it would be better served by better aldermen,” said University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson, himself a former alderman.
Simpson used to sit on the City Council, now he studies it. The professor just published a report declaring Chicago the nation’s most corrupt big city.
“It’s very easy to pass the alderman an envelope with $500 or more in it to get the permits you need,” he said.
Ethics aside, how does the Chicago City Council size up compared to other major cities?
With an overall population of about 2.7 million people, each of the 50 aldermen represents about 54,000 people in Chicago.
In New York City, each of its 51 city council members represents about 166,000 people. In Los Angeles, the City Council has only 15 members, each representing about 266,000 people. Houston’s 16 city council members each represent about 144,000 people.
Why not pare down the Chicago City Council?
“They would not be able to have as close a touch with the community organizations. The individual constituents would see them less often, just like they very rarely see their congressmen. So it’s a trade-off,” Simpson said.
What about financial costs? A look at city records shows Chicago spends more than $22 million on City Council employees; $5.7 million of that goes to aldermen. That means the average take-home pay is about $115,000 for aldermen.
The aldermen also have staff; lots of positions that add up to another $10 million a year.
Don’t forget, the city has 100 aldermanic offices; one for each alderman at City Hall, and another separate office in each ward.