Greising: The Unjust, Opaque Exercise of Aldermanic Privilege. It Needs To Go.

Much of what we know as aldermanic privilege relies on the traditions of Chicago government, not powers granted in city ordinances. That makes it difficult to stamp it out for good.

Lori Lightfoot addresses guests after being sworn in as Mayor of Chicago during a ceremony at the Wintrust Arena on May 20, 2019. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

In the last week of June, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suffered her first loss of a City Council vote. By a one-vote margin, the council rejected Lightfoot’s effort to further diminish aldermanic privilege — a council tradition that grants virtually unchecked power to aldermen in their wards.

In the first week of July, Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, was charged with public corruption. At the root of her alleged illegal acts — you guessed it — was Austin’s exercise of aldermanic privilege.

It was an accident of timing, perhaps, that Austin was indicted the week after Lightfoot’s failed bid to curtail aldermanic privilege. It also was a telling reminder that the roots of corruption in Chicago still run deep and that Lightfoot’s work to unearth and destroy them is far from done.

As a candidate for mayor, Lightfoot singled out aldermanic privilege as a scourge after FBI agents raided the offices of Ald. Edward Burke, 14th. The federal charge against Burke detailed how the long-serving alderman allegedly used his power to extort bribes from people who needed permits or other city approvals. Burke says he did nothing illegal.

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