I've always been impressed by the role aldermen play in Chicago. I'll forever remember attending a Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference annual meeting several years ago where Toni Preckwinkle took questions. One of our neighborhood's citizens started asking her something about the mailboxes in her ward and I thought to myself that the alderman would certainly punt on what's obviously a federal question. Quite the contrary! Not only did Ald. Preckwinkle discuss the issue, but it turned out she had a protocol for dealing with postal issues, including monthly meetings with the postmaster for the area.
That's one-stop shopping for political issues. For any problem that occurs in your ward, you can call the alderman and there's a good chance (s)he'll intervene on your behalf. I've lived in several big cities and this is, generally speaking, the most customer-friendly process I've encountered. In other places, it's just you, Joe Citizen, trying to meander thru what's often a byzantine process, dealing with municipal agents more worried about making a mistake than solving your problem. Here, the middleman, the alderman, has a stake in things. Get your concerns addressed by the city and she may get your loyalty come election time.
Who in the world would argue for changing that? Richard Gill at Hyde Park Progress:
First: the Chicago system of placing the Alderman between the resident and the city is abominable. This system inserts a third party simply to relay a request. It is time-consuming and it invites errors in communication. It also makes a citizen dependent upon (and grateful to?) a politician, and that invites real problems. If 311 really functions as it should, why is the aldermanic intermediary necessary?
The first clause of that last sentence: "If 311 really functions as it should..." Right. In theory, you shouldn't need an alderman. In theory, communism works. But down here on the ground in really big cities, you need a middleman. (And in the next paragraph Gill admits that he believes his request was relayed by the alderman's office in a timely manner.)
The crew at Hyde Park Progress have come out forcefully against Leslie Hairston's re-election. Don't expect me to defend her. I agree with their gripes about her fetish for ample automobile parking. It's the only thing I strongly dislike about her, but to me that's a huge deal. But Chicago is called "The City that Works" for good reason. Aldermanic prerogatives invite accountability. Replace the alderman, not the system.