Phoenix 101: Understanding Chicago’s Aldermen

Courtesy of Lucas LivingstonChicago has 50 wards, each headed by an elected official called an alderman. In February, Chicagoans will be able to vote for their desired alderman during the municipal elections.

As local elections approach this February, Chicago’s 50 wards could soon be headed by new aldermen. The Phoenix breaks down what an alderman’s job entails and what to watch for next month. 

What is an Alderman? 

In Chicago, aldermen are the heads of wards — divisions within the city which serve as electoral districts. The city’s 50 aldermen are part of the City Council where they meet throughout the year to discuss local issues. 

As leaders of their respective wards, aldermen are responsible for community interests.

Aldermen’s responsibilities involve hearing residents’ concerns, such as building developments, noise complaints and assisting new businesses. To address these matters, a committee is formed and any one of the aldermen act as its leader, speaking to other aldermen or political officials to address local issues. 

Each alderman also has aldermanic privilege, which gives them the power to start or block city government actions which might concern their wards.

These ward systems have officials who address public safety, public health and debt in the city. While these elected officials technically run without a party for the purpose of representing the citizens interests, they end up affiliating themselves with political parties.

John Pelissero, a Loyola professor of American politics, said aldermen participate in passing bills and represent the best interests of their wards in City Council meetings. Aldermen also seek advice from other aldermen and from their committees to help improve their districts.

Aldermen are elected by citizens of each ward and serve four-year terms. This year, the aldermanic election is set to take place Feb. 26.

If there isn’t a definitive winner in the Feb. 26 election, a runoff election would be held April 2 in the wards where the top two candidates don’t win 50 percent of votes.

Pelissero predicted around 40 alderman will be elected following the initial election, while around 10 will go on to participate in runoffs in April. 

Who represents the wards near Loyola? 

Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus is split between two wards — the 49th Ward, currently headed by Alderman Joe Moore — and the 48th Ward, currently run by Alderman Harry Osterman. 

Moore, who took office in 1991, oversees the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Moore has been vocal about reducing crime through public safety training academies which help public safety workers, according to his website. Community policing is where police officers are placed in areas of a ward or district and familiarize themselves with the citizens living there, according to the Chicago Police Department

Aldermen also decide how money is spent in their ward.  Moore uses participatory budgeting which allows citizens to decide where the money should be used in the ward through a direct vote. Moore was the first elected official in the country to enact participatory budgeting. 

Osterman is the alderman for the Andersonville, Uptown and Edgewater neighborhoods and has held office since 2011. 

His main focus has been on public safety, education and strengthening economic development, according to his website. Osterman also showed support for the Illinois LGBTQ community by fighting to pass civil union legislation, which allowed partners of the same sex to have the legal obligations offered to married couples. 

Osterman seeks to improve public safety through grants. These grants allow more security cameras near CTA stops and Cease Fire violence intervention, according to his website. This program was created to help prevent the shootings in Chicago. Cease Fire violence intervention is facilitated in areas where gun violence is high, placing mediators between those suspected as shooters engaging in gang violence and changing their behavior by diffusing tensions, according to its website.

Who are some notable candidates in this year’s election?

In the 49th Ward, candidates Maria Hadden and Bill Morton are competing against Moore for the seat. Hadden and Moore debated Tuesday night.

David Earl Williams III is running against Osterman in the 48th Ward. 

Hadden’s platform for the 49th Ward is to provide accessible housing and to improve the school system by freezing charter expansion. Instead of allowing funds to be directed toward charter schools, public schools will have the means to support themselves and make themselves more affordable for families attending in the area.

Hadden’s plan for bettering education includes boosting enrollment and engaging more with teachers and students. She also supports building a stronger economy through local businesses, according to her website

Morton supports localizing government and improving Chicago’s economy and public schools by eliminating corruption and waste of resources, according to his website. He also supports immigration of young people through United We Dream, a program which supports immigrants, according to their website.

Williams supports lowering property tax and supports a Public Bank giving out loans for small business owners and landlords. He also believes the government shouldn’t be able to seize a house of someone who’s suspected of committing a crime, according to his website.

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