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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The first meeting of the new mayor and City Council is nothing if not efficient

Posted by on 05.18.11 at 05:51 PM

You could say that Mayor Daley had a strong working relationship with the City Council, since it did just about everything he wanted. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to do better, vowing a new "partnership" with a more efficient and effective council.

Last week he announced the first step, a reorganization of the council's committees that he said would streamline the legislative process and save taxpayers money.

On Wednesday morning he took the next step, presiding over a council meeting that was so streamlined that aldermen wasted little time debating anything or lamenting what they're going to do without Daley.

Not to say there's no room for improvement—it did last nearly two hours.

Here's the play by play.

10:00 — The meeting is called to order, with Mayor Emanuel wielding the gavel for the first time. He remains standing for the entire meeting. “I wanted to make sure you could see me,” he explained afterward. A rabbi delivers the invocation.

10:03 — City Clerk Susana Mendoza reads the first of a number of honorary resolutions praising the heroics of cops, firefighters, and Chicago students in JROTC programs. In support, Alderman Ed Burke delivers a series of eloquent speeches quoting Bill Gates, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, former U.S. House speaker Tip O’Neil, and several unnamed poets.

10:45 — As the honorary resolutions continue, some aldermen are in the council lounge talking about Emanuel’s committee reorganization plan.

Brief interlude — It’s technically up to aldermen to determine committee assignments and jurisdictions, but they aren’t really used to it, since Daley did the work for them during his time as mayor. Emanuel revised the tradition slightly by holding closed-door conversations with each of the aldermen before he and his chief council emissary, 40th Ward alderman Pat O’Connor, hashed out the plan.

10:46 — Alderman Ricardo Munoz tells reporters the plan has kept too many veteran committee chairmen in place: “This is merely a reshuffling of the Daley administration loyalists.” He says he’s not going to vote against the plan because he doesn’t want to give Emanuel the finger so early in his term, but he's not going to sign off on it either. Munoz says he wasn’t provided a copy of the rules laying out committee duties and jurisdictions until after the council meeting was underway. “I just saw this at 10:10,” he says. Other aldermen say they haven’t had much time to look it over either. “Oh, a minute,” says rookie 43rd Ward alderman Michele Smith.

11:16 — The honorary resolutions are finished. Emanuel bangs the gavel and gives Burke the floor. Burke calls for a vote on the new council rules, including the committee jurisdictions. The ayes have it. There are no nays.

11:16 — Burke calls for a vote on the committee assignments. The ayes have it. There are no nays.

11:17 — Burke calls for a vote on Emanuel’s naming of Ray Suarez, the 31st Ward alderman, as vice mayor. The post is symbolic unless the mayor is incapacitated, in which case the vice mayor temporarily steps into the job. The ayes have it. There are no nays.

11:17 — Burke calls for a vote on Emanuel’s naming of Eighth Ward alderman Michelle Harris as the council’s president pro tempore, meaning she runs the council meetings when the mayor is out of the room. The ayes have it. There are no nays.

11:18 — Burke calls for a vote on the re-appointment of Christina Butler as the council’s sergeant-at-arms. The ayes have it. There are no nays.

11:18 — Burke delivers a speech reviewing the history of the council and welcoming Emanuel to it. “This is not a simple transition,” he says. “It truly is the beginning of a new era for the city of Chicago.” He presents Emanuel with a gift from the aldermen—a new gavel.

11:27 — Emanuel responds with a speech of his own touting the council reorganization, executive rules limiting lobbying by former city officials, and $75 million in potential budget cuts that he announced Tuesday, with details to come later. He says more reforms will come soon. “This is just a down payment.”

11:31 — Emanuel circulates among aldermen, exchanging hugs and handshakes. Meanwhile, Mendoza reads a list of appointments Emanuel is making for police superintendent, schools chief, city comptroller, and city department heads, which the council will have to officially approve at a subsequent meeting.

11:42 — Mendoza reads a list of new business introduced to the council by the aldermen—mostly ward housekeeping matters such as handicapped parking restrictions and valet parking permits.

11:43 — Emanuel hands the gavel over to Harris and leaves the chamber.

11:44 — Emanuel makes his way through the council lounge and heads into the men’s room for what reporters call “the first official mayoral pee.” Only a few reporters follow him all the way to the door.

11:45 — Harris interrupts Mendoza with a bang of the gavel so that aldermen can express their appreciation for a group of students in the audience.

11:47 — Mendoza resumes.

11:48 — Harris pounds the gavel to quiet the chatter among veteran aldermen. Most of the 13 rookies are frozen in their seats.

11:49 — Harris tries again.

11:50 — Smith asks for the floor for the first time in her council career. She says she submitted a proposed ordinance but hadn’t heard it read yet. “What happened?” she wonders. A few reporters snicker as a staffer for the clerk goes looking for it.

11:52 — Mendoza finds Smith’s ordinance and reads it aloud. It would downzone the site of the shuttered Lincoln Park Hospital, which Smith’s predecessor just upzoned a couple of weeks ago to allow a proposed condo and shopping development. “I’m still learning the rules, but I got it in there,” Smith said later.

11:53 — Emanuel returns unscathed. Burke introduces a measure that would flush any proposed legislation introduced before today’s meeting. The ayes have it. There are no nays.

11:55 — Burke congratulates new City Clerk Mendoza. Aldermen applaud.

11:56 — Emanuel declares the meeting adjourned and bangs the gavel.

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