Chicago’s Political Structure Encourages Citizen Participation

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Understanding politics is important. Chicago’s political system is designed to help its citizens. It is structured so the people can take part in the process.

People can voice their opinions about what elected officials are doing in their communities. When there is a Chicago City Council vote scheduled community members are encouraged to state their feelings on their preferred outcome.

Chicago aldermen, also known as City Councilmen, vote on behalf of the people in their Ward. An alderman’s job is to build a community within the Ward. They must sure their constituents know about every opportunity available to them.

17th Ward Alderman David Moore explained his relationship with his constituents:

To advocate for people you have to listen to the people.  The people advocate for the people.

The Chicago City Council is made up of the aldermen, mayor, and city clerk. Aldermen also sit on various council committees, which oversee the city’s departments and agencies such as the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA).

The committee votes on city budgets, settlements for police situations, projects, and taxes  The city also has a committee called committee rules and ethics.  8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris oversees that committee and they vote on ordinances, rules for aldermen and all the committee in the city council, the vacancy of the mayor’s office.

On the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, the aldermen meet at Chicago City Hall to vote as a legislative body. For an ordinance to pass the vote count. When the there is no majority the mayor casts the deciding vote.

The mayor governs the Police and the School board by appointing the leaders of those departments. The city’s system is set up to direct property taxes to support Chicago Public Schools.

The county and the city are managed similarly, and the only difference is the size. The Board of Commissioners job is to manage the affairs of the County.

Cook County Board of Commissioners works with the aldermen to make sure everyone is taken care of in their districts. The commissioners vote on behalf of their constituents. Every fiscal year the commissioners have to pass an annual appropriation bill. This bill funds the county operations.

Aldermen, mayor, and county commissioners salaries are funded by the taxpayers. The mayor earns 216,210 per year. Alderman salaries range from $106-$118 thousand annually.

Cook County Board of Commissioners earns $85,000. However, they also receive $1,200 in the form of a no-strings-attached contingency check each month. The Cook County Board President earns $170,000.

During an interview, District Office Manager Mike Amarilio was asked how he advocates for the people?”

I advocate for the people any way I can. I grew up in the grassroots, my first “campaign,” if you want to call it that, was when I was in 4th grade, raising money for refugees in Kosovo.  I continued this on through high school and college, but quickly learned I could make a wider impact by getting into electoral politics.

Here, I learned how to manage field outreach efforts. I am a firm believer in face to face interactions; not just to win votes, but to really learn about the problems facing a community. When you’re standing on someone’s doorstep, you have a unique opportunity to learn and to listen, and to really discover what the people need.

Later in my career, I realized I could train others to do what I was doing. Thanks to a partnership between the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Democratic National Committee, I was hired to become a statewide organizer. I traveled all over Illinois, recruiting volunteers and training them to be advocates for their neighborhoods. To this day, I still provide free training to any left-leaning organizations that will listen.

I had a great high school Civics teacher, Andrew Conneen who instilled in me one of our nation’s founding doctrines, Y Pluribus Unum. From many, one. I know that in order to advance the progressive changes that we want to see in our communities, in our state, in our country, we can only do it by uniting under a common cause. Either helping to elect someone who shares our dreams or, if no such candidate exists, finding to courage to run ourselves, is the fastest and most effective way to reach these lofty goals.

The late President John F. Kennedy once said, “We go to the moon… not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” I believe we have to keep these immortal words close to our hearts as we fight our own, modern political battles.

Do you think its good to know who your elected officials are?

I believe it is essential to know your elected officials. My boss frequently says, “We cannot fix a problem we don’t know exists.” By maintaining a relationship with those who represent us, we can both advocate for ourselves, and hold accountable those who are derelict in their duties to represent the common interest.

Without communication, we cannot win. Without communication, we solve the many ills that burden our society. Without communication, we cannot unite to overcome these obstacles to justice, safety, and freedom.

It is no secret that we have a President who is seeking to divide us. He and his cronies on Capitol Hill know that when we are squabbling amongst ourselves, they can more easily pilfer our treasury to profit their donors.

They turn neighbor against neighbor, worker against worker, family against family when we should be working together towards the common prosperity for all. We cannot hope to achieve this if we do not know who our elected officials are representing; us or them. Do your homework!

Does Chicago have a set system when it comes to politics?

Nothing in electoral politics has a set system. With enough political will, and enough people working together, we can overcome any system put in place to hold us down. If we don’t like the people, organize and change them. If we don’t like the rules, elect people who will put in new rules.

Nothing is set in stone, and our nation has undergone radical changes several times. Giving women the right to vote, people of color are still fighting against disenfranchisement from the right, many people don’t realize that it took until Andrew Jackson before free white males were even given a right to vote.

That being said, they didn’t happen overnight. It took many people coming together and fighting for equal representation and participation. Perhaps “given” is not the most accurate word, these people took their power and raised above a system that put them down until their voices could no longer be silenced.

You don’t like how things are going in Chicago? Propose changes, and find some others who will help you realize them.

As Amarilio explains, people must know who their elected officials are so that their voices are heard. When they are in-the-know, they can attempt to persuade an official to see their point of view. Citizens people can go to their aldermen to make their needs known. Their representative’s job is to be an advocate. During Chicago City Council meetings, the mayor is there to hear from the city’s residents.

Written By Marcellus Turner and Cathy Milne
Edited by Cathy Milne


Huffington Post: Cook County Commissioner Back-Door Pay Raise
City of Chicago: Current Employee Name, Salaries, Position Titles
Ballotpedia: Cook County Employee Salaries
Interview: 17th Ward Alderman David Moore
Interview: Mike Amarillo, District Office Manager

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Matt B’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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