A DuPage County lawmaker introduced a measure Tuesday designed to strip Chicago aldermen of decision-making power over ward-level issues, saying state lawmakers should limit city officials’ ability to block new developments as part of an anti-corruption push.
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Westmont) told The Daily Line Tuesday the executive order issued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to end aldermanic prerogative on her first day in office is “a good start,” but that state oversight is needed.
“People should be able to come to Chicago and get a fair shake and not a shake down,” said Mazzochi, who is running for a second term representing the 47th District. “This is an opportunity for a fresh start.”
HB4484, which Mazzochi dubbed the End Aldermanic Privilege Law, would order city officials not to reject “any approvals under the Zoning Division … because of an aldermanic hold, objection, extra-judicial or extra-legal request.”
The proposed law would give the city a year to approve a development after first receiving the proposal.
If the measure passes, and an alderman blocks a proposal, the city could be forced to pay a “$5,000 civil penalty and other damages” as a result of a future lawsuit brought by the stymied development.
Mazzochi said she was moved to act by the 14-count indictment of Ald. Ed Burke (14), which alleges that Burke repeatedly — and brazenly — used his powerful position at City Hall to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm. Burke has pleaded not guilty.
The sort of “shady back room deals” Burke is accused of must be stopped, Mazzochi said.
“This is one very small step in protecting people’s property rights,” Mazzochi said.
While Mazzochi said she informed Lightfoot’s Springfield lobbyist that she planned to introduce the bill, she has not spoken with members of the Chicago delegation about the proposal.
A bill scaling back Chicago’s home-rule powers would be unlikely to pass without support from lawmakers representing the city.
Lightfoot’s efforts to root out aldermanic prerogative have advanced only in fits and starts during her first months in office, pushed to the back burner by a strike by a teachers strike, the search for a new Chicago Police superintendent and a massive budget deficit.
Lightfoot has said she remains committed to changing the city’s zoning code to strike at the heart of aldermen’s power.
The zoning code is the ultimate authority on what can be built on each street in Chicago. The code, which runs to hundreds of pages, is designed to set rules for developers and builders while allowing city officials to reject requests for changes that they decide are a bad fit for neighborhoods or could hurt property values.
Aldermen exercise their prerogative at every committee meeting and at every council meeting on items ranging from sign permits to liquor licenses. But most of aldermen’s historic clout comes from the fact that they alone have had the power to approve — or veto — proposals for new housing complexes or commercial developments.
Any proposal to change the zoning code would need the approval of the City Council.
Supporters of aldermanic prerogative tout it as the best way to ensure that Chicago residents live in neighborhoods governed by one of their own: someone who lives near them, understands their issues and is not only accessible — but also accountable to them on Election Day.