O-Issue 2011: Chicago politics

The big names in the Windy City.

By Sam Levine

Notoriously rife with corruption, the Chicago political system is one of the most hard-nosed institutions in the nation and around the world. Chicagoans elect a Mayor and a City Council every four years. The City Council, responsible for making the city’s laws, is comprised of 50 aldermen elected from 50 different wards across the city. Chicago sits in Cook County, the second most populous county in the nation. Below are some of the major players on the Chicago political scene.

Rahm Emanuel: After a characteristically dramatic election process in May, Emanuel faces a daunting challenge in replacing Chicago’s longest serving Mayor, Richard M. Daley. While Emanuel has been careful not to publicly criticize Daley, one of the most powerful men in Chicago, he has had to find ways to deal with an inherited 30 million dollar budget deficit. Before serving as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Emanuel represented several communities on Chicago’s Northwest side as a U.S. Congressman. Several Chicagoans have poked fun at the Mayor’s infamous potty mouth, though Emanuel has reportedly been on his best behavior since taking office. Emanuel’s children will reportedly begin attending the Lab School this fall.

Will Burns: A young face in Chicago politics, Burns (A.B. ’95, A.M. ’98) represents portions of Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Bronzeville in Chicago’s 4th Aldermanic Ward. Prior to being elected alderman in May, Burns served one term in the Illinois General Assembly. Burns also served as an aide on Barack Obama’s failed congressional bid.

Leslie Hairston: A Hyde Park native and Lab school graduate, Hairston has represented portions of Hyde Park in the 5th Ward since 1999. Hairston is a fierce opponent of gentrification, and has had a contentious relationship with the University.

Willie Cochran: 20th Ward Alderman Cochran represents the western part of Hyde Park in Chicago’s legislative body. A former organizer of the Woodlawn New Communities Program, Cochran served as a police officer in the 20th Ward for 12 years before running for office.

Toni Preckwinkle: Preckwinkle (A.B. ’69, M.A.T. ’77) serves as the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. The Board is composed of 17 members and sets property, public health, and public safety policy for the county. Preckwinkle previously served as the Alderman from the 4th Ward.

Barbara Flynn Currie: Currie (A.B ’68, M.A. ’73) serves as the Democratic Majority  Leader in the Illinois General Assembly. Currie, who has served in the Assembly for 32 years, is one of the most powerful members of the Assembly, and the first woman to hold the position of majority leader. Currie has maintained a close relationship with the University since graduating, and represents portions of Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn, and South Chicago.

Kwame Raoul: After Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Raoul was tapped to fill Obama’s State Senate seat. Since taking office, Raoul has firmly cemented his own identity in Illinois politics. Raoul supported legislation, signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn last year, to abolish the death penalty in Illinois, and supported stricter gun regulations after the murder of U of C graduate student Amadou Cisse in 2007.

Bobby Rush: Rush has represented the Hyde Park community in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993. Rush criticized the University’s decision to continue investments in Darfur, and called for a congressional investigation into the University of Chicago Medical Center’s treatment of minority patients. Rush held onto his seat against challenger Barack Obama in 2000, a moment that has been called Obama’s “political education” and a turning point in the President’s career.

Rob Blagojevich: The former Governor and Celebrity Apprentice star was convicted by the Illinois House of Representatives on 17 of 20 different counts that he was accused of last June. The counts that Blagojevich was convicted of included charges of corruption and misconduct while in office–because he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat that Barack Obama previously held. The trial captured the attention of the state and the country, as the 43rd Governor was initially acquitted on all counts, and then convicted in a re-trial. Blagojevich is in good company; his predeccessor, George Ryan, was also convicted on federal corruption charges.

Barack Obama: Hyde Park’s most famous resident–perhaps you’ve heard of him–used to eat pancakes, bacon, and eggs at Valois Cafeteria on 53rd Street. Obama represented Hyde Park in the Illinois State senate from 1997-2004, and Illinois in the United States Senate from 2005-2009. He also taught constitutional law at the Law School, and sent his children to the Lab School. His rise to the presidency has allowed him to cross paths with some of the most important Hyde Park elected officials who still continue to serve the neighborhood.

Register to Vote: To register to vote in Cook County you must be 18 years of age by election day, a U.S. citizen, and be a resident of your precinct at least 30 days prior to election day. You can register to vote by going in person to one of six locations of the Cook County Clerk’s office, or by sending in a mail-in application form. You can obtain a mail-in application by calling 312-603-0906.