Friday, July 28, 2006

"Big box" ordinance passes 35-14

The city's "big box" ordinance passed Wednesday with a veto-proof 35-14 vote. This was a watershed event for the City Council, since it demonstrates for the first time in 17 years how the council should operate under the so-called "weak mayor" system. Debate was robust and all views were permitted to be clearly and fully expressed. The mayor made no threats and was civil.

The vote breakdown was also interesting. The mayor's most reliable followers, including Mrs. Daley, voted against the ordinance after being pressured by the mayor and by aldermen in wards who were promised to receive the first Wal-Mart stores. Following were the "no" votes (personal thanks to Ramsin Canon of Gapers Block; this has not been published elsewhere that I know of):

Haithcock (2nd), Tillman (3rd), Hairston (5th), Beavers (7th), Balcer (11th), Troutman (20th), Brookins (21st), Carothers (29th), Austin (34th), Mitts (37th), Natarus (42nd), Daley (43rd), Tunney (44th), Stone (50th).

Liberal Helen Shiller (46th) of Uptown left the room for an abstention, since she has a Target going up. I believe this was not a bad move for her under the circumstances. Alds. Balcer, Natarus, Daley, Tunney, and Stone are the mayoral loyalists. I can only speculate on the true inner motivations of these aldermen. Some of them have large numbers of Republicans in their wards and may have bent to conservative pressure. Some were asked to vote no by other aldermen in poorer wards who have been promised Wal-Mart stores. Some loyalists, I am sure, imagine that their fealty to the mayor will accrue them benefits.

Whatever their motivations, I believe there is a very good reason for the other 35 aldermen to have voted "yes" for this ordinance. I admit it is a blunt and imperfect instrument, yet I think it is fair, mostly because it serves to keep billions in revenue, that would otherwise be spread across the globe in management and profit, within in the local economy.

Most importantly, this ordinance buys Chicago a little bit of time: perhaps for a couple of years it holds the world's largest corporations at bay until we have the opportunity to properly develop mid-size supermarkets and other essential services. I am in early-stage discussions with some aldermen on something I drew up last year in response to the closure of many small independent supermarkets. The plan is provisionally called the Essential Services Initiative and it involves land allocation and tax benefits for mid-sized, locally owned basic-needs businesses to enter areas all over the city. Please contact me for details on this.


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