A second group of aldermen, calling themselves the Paul Douglas Alliance (after the liberal Illinois U.S. Senator and former member of the Chicago City Council), announced they are forming a new so-called progressive caucus. The move comes one day after the council's original progressive caucus, the Progressive Reform Coalition, announced their legislative priorities. Progress Illinois breaks down what the formation of the second progressive caucus could really mean.
A second group of aldermen, calling themselves the Paul Douglas Alliance (after the liberal Illinois U.S. Senator and former member of the Chicago City Council), announced they are forming a new so-called progressive caucus. The move comes one day after the council's original progressive caucus, the Progressive Reform Coalition, announced their legislative priorities, which are a moratorium on charter schools, a privatization ordinance and the Responsible Bidders Ordinance, according to Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) in an interview this afternoon with Progress Illinois.
The formation of the new alliance begs the question of why the councilmen felt the need to create a new progressive group when one already exists?
Carol Marin had a difficult time getting a straight answer to that question this evening when two members of each alliance appeared on a Chicago Tonight panel. Alds. Will Burns (4th) and Joe Moore (49th) represented the Douglas Alliance, while Rick Munoz (22nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) spoke for the Progressive Reform Coalition. She asked the question at least two times while moderating the panel of councilmen and didn't seem to get a definitive answer.
"These aren't factions; we're not at war with each other," said Moore. "We agree on 95 percent of the things. I think there's a feeling among some of us, however, that times have changed. We have a new mayor and there are some aldermen, progressive aldermen, who are little bit uncomfortable with the approach."
"Let me explain it this way," Burns interjected. "There are two ways to approach change. You can be the guys who can propose the idea that is, sort of, out there and raise consciousness and sort of hope things will eventually change. Or you can sort of figure out: here are my progressive ideals, here's how I can get something done around this particular issue, this is how I can to 26 votes, here's how I can get other people bought into what I want to get done ... and I think that's the approach the Douglas Alliance is interested in pursuing."
Marin pressed about what the specific issues are in the 5 percent of the time that the two groups disagree, but didn't get an answer.
Meanwhile, both Waguespack and Munoz said neither of them knew about the impending formation of the Douglas Alliance.
"We're a bit surprised because in the [news]paper, it was characterized as another progressive caucus and the real issue here is what we're going to be voting on and as things come up in the city council how are we going to articulate accountability, transparency and doing things right by the city of Chicago," Munoz said.
Along with Munoz, Waguespack and Sposato, Alds. Robert Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), John Arena (45th) and Ameya Pawar (47th) sit on the council's original progressive caucus. Pawar is the only councilman who is in both the Progressive Reform Coalition and the Paul Douglas Alliance. Also sitting on the Douglas Alliance with Pawar, Burns and Moore are Alds. Joe Moreno (1st), Pat Dowell (3rd), Rey Colon (35th), Brendan Reilly (42nd), Michele Smith, (43rd), James Cappleman (46th), and Harry Osterman (48th).
When you look at the voting records of the members of the Douglas Alliance and the the Progressive Reform Coalition, you see that each of the council members that make up more than half of all of the votes against Emanuel sit on the Progressive Reform Coalition. In the April edition of Chicago Magazine, Steve Rhodes writes about the council's propensity to rubber stamp whatever the mayor wants, noting that Sposato, Arena, Hairston, Waguespack, and Fioretti are the councilmen that voted against the mayor the most. And with a range of 7 to 18 'no' votes for each of those councilmen out of the 112 total dissent votes during Emanuel's tenure thus far, its dubious at best to accuse them of being obstructionists.
Rhodes' article, The Yes Men, takes a look at how often the council voted in favor of the mayor's policies, counting how many times councilmen voted against the mayor and who did or did not do so. According to the article, 21 aldermen never voted against Emanuel in a full council vote. And many have only voted against the mayor on a handful of occasions, including Moore, who has only voted against Emanuel once. Moore, who routinely voted against Mayor Richard M. Daley, originally questioned Emanuel's early activity as mayor, but has since become more aligned with the Emanuel, as seen by his voting record, which some could possibly attribute to his being named chairman of the council's human relations committee, as noted in The Yes Men article.
Marin flat out asked Moore and Burns if the Douglas Alliance was the mayor's progressive group, to which Moore said no.
"That's the mistake right there," said Moore. "We are all progressives. I happen to believe that this mayor has shown an ability to listen and to communicate and to adopt some of our ideas. And as long as that goes on, I don't feel like we have to be at war with him."
Waguespack said his coalition was not at war with the mayor nor was it an "anti-mayor progressive" group. He said the group has worked with the mayor on a number of issues, like successfully reversing the mayor's shortening of Chicago Public Library branch hours and the associated layoffs.
"What we do as a caucus is we present these ideas, we try to get them through the city council," Waguespack added. "Sometimes you do have to draw a line in the sand and say we're not going to go past that and we're going to stand by the ideals that hundreds of thousands of people in the city hold. One of them is school closings and the haphazard way that's going about; crime issues, which are out of control. We've been very vocal about that, but the people out there in the city are very vocal about that and we are standing by a lot of the values that people are looking for us to talk about."
This past weekend, Moore saw hundreds of Chicagoans at the doorstep of his home, calling on him to make a firm commitment to push back against and prevent any new charter schools from coming into his ward. Last month, Moore voted in favor of a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter schools, but it was non-binding.
Sposato, who's cast 10 'no' votes against Emanuel, said of Moore, "If he thinks he [Emanuel] is more workable than the last guy [Daley], then good for Joe. We stand up for what we think is right." Sposato says he doesn't understand how anyone can agree with anyone 100 percent, "or almost 100 percent", of the time, in reference to how members on the city council vote, adding that "those who vote 'yes' all the time should be looked at, not the ones who say 'no'."
Sposato told Progress Illinois that he talked to Moore as recently as Monday, asking him to be a part of the original progressive caucus saying he was welcome to join the group and that he felt Moore was really one of its founding members.
"Now, I think he flipped pretty much," Sposato said. "I mean, look at his voting record. It's pretty much 100 percent. I don't know anyone who can think a 100 percent voting record in favor of everything that's going on is a good thing; I don't know. There has to be something you have some issue with. Twenty-one of my colleagues voted yes 100 percent of the time and then there's probably another 15 or so that voted 'no' one time. I'm not an obstructionist and the other progressive caucus members, we're not obstructionists; we just stand up for what we think is right. We try to look at what's the best benefit for the city."
Moore is not the only questionable member on this new so-called progressive caucus. Cappleman, also a member of the Douglas Alliance, has been under fire by residents of his ward and community activists for his social policies, including his attempts to rid his ward of a Salvation Army truck that serves those in need and housing for the low-income who are trying to get back on their feet. Cappleman has also pushed to make it illegal to sit in a bus shelter if you are not actively waiting for a bus. These are all questionable moves for a lawmaker who is joining a "progressive" caucus.
Even though the recent activities of some of the aldermen on the Douglas Alliance beg the question of whether they really are quantifiable progressives, Burns said the main difference between the caucuses is "a matter of style."
"I think part of it is just a matter of style," he said in response to Marin's repeated question about the 5 percent difference in beliefs between the Douglas Alliance and the Progressive Reform Coalition. "I think part of it is an approach and I think our frame is much more interested in actually achieving legislative results."
But the Progressive Reform Coalition doesn't agree with that sentiment, saying the group has legislative priorities they plan to get accomplished as well. In addition to the impact the coalition had on the library issue, Munoz pointed out that a letter by the coalition calling on the mayor to rethink the "draconian" cuts outlined in his first budget had a direct impact on Emanuel's final fiscal proposal.
The partnering potential for these two allegedly progressive caucuses is unclear. The Douglas Alliance's first proposal is a call for the city's Inspector General, Joe Ferguson, to be given the power to investigate aldermen, which he currently does not have the power to do. As of now, the Legislative Inspector General, Faisal Kahn, is tasked with that job. Ironically, the creation of the legislative inspector general position is the sole issue that Moore voted against Emanuel on since the mayor has been in office.
Members of the Progressive Reform Coalition seem to support the initiative, with Sposato saying he had no problem with it if Ferguson's office has the resources to do the job. Munoz said the caucus would back it and hoped that the Douglas Alliance would stand by them on one of their major legislative priorities.
"In their announcement, they did something good," Munoz said on the Chicago Tonight panel. "They proposed legislation that would give the inspector general oversight over the city council and I polled the rest of our caucus, the Progressive Reform Coalition, and we would embrace that; we would join them in hopes that they would join us in supporting the school closure moratorium resolution so that we can put to rest this issue that is basically turning the city inside out."
But the Douglas Alliance danced around the issue of the charter schools moratorium, with Burns saying they "had not had the opportunity to look at the school moratorium resolution" or meet as a caucus and determine where they stand. Munoz quickly responded to Burns' comment, saying the issue has been sitting in the Rules Committee "for well over 25 days."
"From what I see, people don't want charters," said Sposato. "They want to strengthen their community school. Schools are anchors for the community ... Charters pluck kids away from schools, they cherry pick kids from community schools and then they put them in their school. But if they start causing problems in school or your grades aren't up living up, they kick you out and dump you back into the neighborhood school; or if your parents are knuckleheads and they don't like them, they can kick you out. They can kick you out for anything. The community schools have to take you, they have to deal with you, they have to help you. And they get a bad rap sometimes for their scores and everything, but they get the non-performing kids dumped on them and they sometimes lose their high performing kids to the charter schools."
This could be a defining issue for the Douglas Alliance in terms of their true progressiveness in the eyes of many considering a good deal of self-identified progressive Chicagoans and groups support such a moratorium. As previously mentioned, the hundreds of folks that marched to Moore's doorstep over the weekend were in fact calling for a moratorium on charter schools, particularly in his ward.
"Our analysis of the charter school issue is he says he's supporting a moratorium and the city council resolution, but its stuck in the Rules Committee, which is where things go to die," said Kristi Sanford, communications coordinator for IIRON, which helped organize Sunday's events. "We wanted him to use his power to make a commitment that he would not have any more charter schools in the 49th Ward, period. Our view is use your power where you have power, don't hide behind this powerless resolution; it doesn't mean anything. It isn't going anywhere. Show us that you are listening to the community's concerns and the fact that we want public schools that are great for all kids. He was quoted in the Tribune saying 'who are we to say that parents shouldn't have a choice', but our view is charter schools are not the answer because its been shown that they don't perform any better than regular schools. It's just a means to privatization and we oppose that."