The Local is Political

| April 6, 2010

This Saturday a grand experiment in democracy will occur in the 49th Ward of Chicago. Alderman Joe Moore is asking for residents to tell him how to spend $1.3 million. Yup, that’s how much money each alderman gets to spend on capital projects each year at their discretion.

Residents in [the 49th] ward have met for the past year — developing a rule book for the process, gathering project ideas from their neighbors and researching and budgeting project ideas. These range from public art to street resurfacing and police cameras to bike paths. The residents then pitched their proposals to their neighbors at a series of neighborhood “assemblies” held throughout the ward. [link]

The projects proposed [PDF] are pretty typical of what you would expect if you asked people what they want to happen. Street repaving, lights, security cameras, a dog park and bike racks. You can see the proposals at Mess Hall until 6 pm Wednesday. But the catch is that the residents of the 49th Ward will now voice their opinion on what should happen first.

Critics say that aldermen shouldn’t be in charge of projects like this…That’s what the City is all about. That these earmarks, pork barrel projects are a waste of our tax dollars. Alderman Stone, my alderman, is a critic, but not because he thinks that the city should be doing its job responding to our requests, but because he was elected to make the decision about whether or not my street or your street should be repaved first.

I wish that the Heartland had a video up of Alderman Moore from Saturday already. He talked about how citizens are discovering a lot about public decision making through their research. Apparently it is less costly and perhaps more effective to put up additional lighting on a street than to put in a security camera for safety sake. Thus a group of people proposed additional lighting on their block near a school. The principal was all for it. The residents were not. The residents didn’t want additional lighting to shine into their homes. I see their point, I have a street lamp right outside my home too. Annoying at times. But because the idea came from the people, THEY had to negotiate if lighting would happen or not. And if it happened to be on the ballot and it won, it would happen. When was the last time your alderman checked in with you before making a change?

Honestly when I heard about this experiment, I loved it immediately. I know this Saturday turn out might be low, but hey, we had only about 25% of Chicago turn out to vote in February! But it could be a first step in getting people to pay more attention to not politics, but the state of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and the economics of the things we kinda take for granted like street repaving and lighting.

Do you live in the 49th Ward? What are you going to vote for?

Would you want this to come to your ward or neighborhood?

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Category: Featured, Political Grounds

About the Author ()

Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist, a mom and a writer. She blogs about the intersection of feminism and motherhood at VivalaFeminista.com. Veronica lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, their spunky daughter and doxie named Piper. You can connect with Veronica at Facebook or Twitter.

Comments (8)

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  1. Hugh says:

    “…these earmarks, pork barrel projects…”

    that’s the critics, you’re in favor of earmarks and pork barrel projects?

    “Honestly when I heard about this experiment, I loved it immediately.”

    I think you need to think about it some more. Before one can think about whether voting on it is a grand idea, one sorta has to get past whether one thinks $65M in legislative set-asides in the capital budget of the City of Chicago in 2010 can possibly be good government policy. Why not split the City’s revenue 50 ways and get it over with?

    “…turn out might be low, but hey, we had only about 25% of Chicago turn out to vote in February!”

    you love this idea so much, no matter how low turn-out is it cannot invalidate the result in your mind?

    “Moore…talked about how citizens are discovering a lot about public decision making through their research….it could be a first step in getting people to pay more attention to not politics”

    let’s say Moore’s motivation is to educate citizens about how priorities are set

    wouldn’t you hold public hearings on how Streets & San sets priorities, and develop legislative remedies that might make S&S more responsive to residents City-wide?

    Moore would rather be a little mayor than an elected legislative representative

  2. Hugh says:

    pretending to be a little mayor is easy

    reform is hard

  3. Veronica says:

    Thanks for the comments Hugh and thanks for repeating them on two different sites.

    As I said at Windy Citizen, I’m all for experiments that just might get more citizens to pay attention to what is happening with elected officials. Especially people who like to say they aren’t political, but you have beautifully shown here that even repaving our streets, lighting alleys and heating the El platform are very political items.

  4. Hugh says:

    “experiments”

    in your judgement experiments is a good use of $1.3M in Chicago in 2010?

  5. Hugh says:

    “…these earmarks, pork barrel projects…”

    The cost to taxpayers of the so-called “aldermanic menu” program is much more than $1.3M/alderman, $65M. In assessing the program and this charade of democracy one must understand the role of the “aldermanic menu” in the politics of passing the mayor’s budget. Every year in the fall our elected legislative representatives flip through the mayor’s proposed budget and glance at the allocation to the menu and City Council payroll & expenses, and that’s about it. And every year the mayor’s budget passes and about 5-6 months later the tulips push up and the budget is found to have multi-hundreds of million dollar shortfalls. For $65M/year our mayor purchases from our elected representatives the right to multi-hundred million dollar overruns.

    Overall, the aldermanic menu program is profoundly harmful to Chicagoans, and a sham vote on how to spend it doesn’t change anything.

  6. Hugh says:

    “I’m all for experiments that just might get more citizens to pay attention to what is happening with elected officials.”

    well, then, understanding your values I’m sure you will be paying particular attention to the number of votes cast, and I’m sure you won’t be able to see clear to write about this further unless Moore releases that number at his presser to announce the outcome

  7. Hugh says:

    “I’m all for experiments that just might get more citizens to pay attention to what is happening with elected officials.”

    we are in agreement that what we are witnessing here in 2010 in Chicago in an election year is more than a million extremely dear capital dollars ruthlessly re-purposed to draw attention to an elected official

  8. Hugh says:

    A massive package of financial benefits convinces our elected representatives in City Hall to neglect their duties and denies us our right to representation in City government, and the aldermanic menu program is a key component of that package. Other components include a $110K/yr salary, jobs for friends & family, and a vast array of lucrative expense accounts with no oversight. Your post is celebrating a Chicago alderman making a show of letting his constituents decide how to spend part of the bribe he took from the mayor to back bench his seat in Council Chambers.

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