Schleicher Discusses Aldermanic Privilege on Chicago Public Radio

Professor David Schleicher was on WBEZ 91.5 Chicago public radio to discuss Chicago aldermanic privilege in a segment designed to answer the question, "What do Chicago aldermen really do?"

"If you wanna know why a city looks the way it does, or why it works the way it does, all private behavior in this regard is regulated by the city," said Schleicher, in discussing municipal zoning. "More than the police, more than the schools, it is the most important thing cities do," Schleicher said.

Chicago aldermen have de facto veto power over any development project in their ward, giving them tremendous zoning power to help shape the architectural and economic aspects of their neighborhoods.

Schleicher said Chicago’s "sacrosanct" aldermanic privilege has drawbacks, pointing to homeless shelters, which most people agree serve a greater good but which often fall victim to "not in my backyard" opposition by neighborhoods for which they are proposed. "The cost of aldermanic privilege is not wasting city council people’s time," Schleicher explained. "But rather, creating too parochial an attitude towards problems that are really citywide problems."

Pregnancy tests? Pigeon poo? What Chicago aldermen really do, WBEZ 91.5 Chicago Public Media, June 11, 2013. By Alex Keefe.

"The structure of Chicago’s curiously personal aldermanic duties has its genesis from the days of political patronage, Simpson said. Aldermen could trade city favors, such as pothole-filling and curb-cutting, for votes come election day.

 "While that sort of quid-pro-quo is now looked down upon, the scaffolding of the Machine ward system remains intact, allowing aldermen micro-manage their wards. Each of Chicago’s 50 aldermen only has to deal with about 55,000 constituents. Compare that to about 162,000 constituents a piece for New York’s 51 council members, and a whopping 255,000 constituents for the averageLos Angeles council member."

Read the article or listen to the program