Ald. Matt Martin, 47th, vice chair of the City Council’s ethics committee, introduced a resolution at September’s council meeting that would move him up to replace retired Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, as committee chair.

A vice chair stepping up after a chair’s retirement might seem to outside observers like an uncontroversial routine bit of parliamentary housekeeping, but this is Chicago, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot had a classically mayoral response: “There’s a process by which we do that, and the process is the mayor makes the final picks.”

That’s been the Chicago Way for generations of mayors and aldermen. (Quite literally, in the case of the various dynasties that have made City Hall their family business.) Forget what you learned in school about separation of powers and for that matter what it says in the council’s own rules: In practice, here in Chicago, the mayor decides who’s in charge, and the council nods and says “yes.”

Those leadership positions are big plums to hand out. Each committee controls its own budget, ranging from $117,000 for the refugee rights committee to the finance committee’s $1.15 million. Most of that goes to staff salaries, Balkanizing the vast majority of the council’s resources across 19 offices with 19 different bosses.



Geoffrey Cubbage is a policy and budget analyst focusing on the Illinois General Assembly and Chicago's City Council. Prior to joining the Better Government Association in 2022, Geoffrey served as Director...