Making Democracy Work

Visits to Aldermen

Suggestions for Interviewing Your Alderman

Do you know what your alderman is doing to make your neighborhood a safe and beautiful place to live? Ask him or her! At the same time, you can help the League collect important information about City council.

How to do this:

1.Contact the office and ask for a list that includes your ward and all the members of the League who live in it. Contact a few others in your ward to set up a group. Aldermen like to meet their constituents and going with a small group representing the League of Women Voters of Chicago will be appreciated. (If you find no one else in your ward who is able to go with you, contact the League office by email; we'll be glad to partner with you.)

2.Call your alderman's office and set up an appointment. Your alderman has offices in City Hall and in your ward.

3.Let the League office know that you will be interviewing your alderman, whom you will be going with, and the date.

4.Do a bit of research on the internet. Know something about your alderman before you go. What committees does he/she serve on? What is their primary interest? Don't focus on negatives + be positive. Remember that you are there to share ideas. Be sure to let him/her know what you think of your ward; what is working well, what isn't.

5.A list of questions is provided. Please ask as many of them as you can in the time available. Responses that you get will be used when we begin a study of City Council.

6.After the interview: Send a thank you note.

7.Write a report to send to the League office based on the question list. You may add any other observations that you think are important.

The primary purpose of interviewing your alderman is to strengthen communications and to let him/her know that the League of Women Voters of Chicago is an active participant in city government and that we follow the activities of City Council. If asked, be prepared to discuss the purposes of LWV Chicago: To

Educate its members and the public to lobby government on selected issues. Observe the functioning of governmental bodies to monitor their accountability and transparency.

Most important: Enjoy the interview experience!

Alderman Interview Questions

1.What are the most important issues the ward faces? (This is an ice-breaker.)

2.The League is interested in how well city government works. Would you approve of aldermen electing their own committee chairmen? How could the aldermen make that happen?

3.If the administration does not want a resolution or a proposed ordinance to come to the floor for a vote, it frequently stays bottled up in committee. What can aldermen do about that?

4.How do you feel about a more equitable distribution of aldermanic funds? Should they all continue to get the same amount?

5.What responsibility do you feel the city council as a whole should have in making sure there are enough social supports for communities and students in the schools: counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses?

6.Do you feel that tax increment financing has helped or hurt the city? Would you suggest reforms around TIF transparency or the use of surplus funds?

7.What can city council do to solve the violence problems in all wards and make our city a safer place?

Alderman Reilly Interview

Report: League of Women Votes of Chicago Meeting with Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward

Attendance: Marcia Dillon, Pris Mims, Chris Ruys, Badonna Reingold

Four of us who reside in Chicago's 42nd Ward met with our alderman, Brendan Reilly, at City Hall on June 20 to discuss some of the major problems facing our city and issues regarding better government.

The alderman said without hesitation that crime is one of the Chicago's biggest problems. Every shooting, he said, impacts our city and economy. Though most crime happens in certain communities, he said the city must keep the public's confidence in downtown Chicago which he called the safest area in the city. To combat crime, he said that different caucuses within the city council have different ideologies and priorities. He believes that gun crimes committed by minors, even if it's their first mistake, should carry stiff penalties to send the necessary message of deterrence. The state legislature hasn't done enough to make that happen, he stated. The aldermen also said the council has no control over the operations of the Chicago Police Department except for budgetary authority. It makes sense, he said, to have court supervision of pending police reforms, as originally envisioned by the agreement with the Justice Department, but it's "not an issue I'm going to bat over."

Managing the city's growth and development is another major challenge, according to the alderman. It needs to be done responsibly, he said. We talked about the Alderman's prerogative and how the other aldermen respect that normally. So it isn't the City Council that would be doing the weighing, but the alderman in whose Ward the proposed development project would be located. He talked about oversaturation with one type of project, which changes from time to time, but he is more concerned with density, traffic, noise, and other issues raised by his constituents. Before the city council approves certain construction projects, they weigh whether the projects is a fit or if it may oversaturate an area with one type of construction such as hotels or rentals.

Asked why certain draft resolutions or ordinances get stalled in committees, Alderman Reilly explained that since the mayor appoints the committee chairs, they feel compelled to follow the Mayor's direction. The only way that the council would be able to override the Mayor is if the council became fractionalized to break up the large block that supports the mayor, but he doesn't see that happening.

Each ward receives the same discretionary amount of funding -- $1.3 million for their wards. (This is a small fraction of the total amount spent on infrastructure projects by the City.) He said the aldermen generally administer the funds they receive very carefully. He would like to see this amount increased. As for the city's council responsibility to provide adequate funding for social programs, he believes that some funding cuts which were made, like those for mental health clinics, should be reconsidered. However, there is no funding now. He noted the city used to be able to get state funding for some social programs, but with the budget stalemate in Springfield, it's not likely to happen. The federal government under President Trump is cutting back on funding social programs, so it, too, is an unlikely funding source. He did not answer the question about whether different wards should get different amounts.

The city council has to approve all TIF (Tax Increment Financing) projects beforehand, and he gave examples of two projects he supported in our ward where TIF funding was used, but he noted that there are now far too many TIFs in the city. He was the first Alderman to say no to a new TIF district that Mayor Daley wanted because it was for an area that clearly wasn't blighted. TIFs can be a powerful tool if we use them right, he said.

The meeting ended on a positive note, and Alderman Reilly encouraged us to stay in touch.