Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Could Chicago's Aldermanic System NOT Be Corrupt?!

Posted by Elizabeth Fama

I got a giant flyer in the mail yesterday, from my incumbent alderman. Unfolding it, I see a map and a list of her accomplishments since 1999. Under the column "New & Reinvested Businesses" there are the names of some new-ish ventures (Open Produce, Jimmy Johns, Z&H) and some old ones (Walgreens, Hyde Park Animal Clinic). It led me to wonder, exactly what does an alderman do to help businesses get started or "reinvested" in his or her ward in Chicago?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is "not obstruct." Apparently, if you're starting a business, there are approximately a million hurdles that the City puts you through: forms to fill out, zoning approvals (let alone variances) to obtain, licenses to purchase, and inspections to survive. Then, at the very end, the alderman puts his or her John Hancock on a final form that basically says it's OK with the alderman that you're opening this business. Without it — no matter how well you hurdled up until that point — your business can't open.

I'm not an expert, so local entrepreneurs should feel free to correct me, but it sounds like the alderman has point blank veto power over every business in the ward that wants to open, to remodel, to "reinvest," or to install an outdoor sidewalk patio.That means every business is afraid of him or her. Every business feels like a campaign contribution is probably a good idea, even if it hasn't received direct pressure to do so. Why is this one signature necessary, with all those City hurdles? Do all cities do this?

How could this not end in corruption?


Aaron said...

It's actually shocking how little guidance (read: zero) the municipal code gives for reasons an alderman can reject a business, and aldermen aren't required to give any kind of justification. It's hard to imagine a system better suited to producing graft.

Chicago_mom said...

What I love about this brochure is its embrace of a "gross", not net, measure of business formation. For example, I see Zaleski and Horvath on 57th, but not the University Market's departure from the same space. I see no mention of Florian's closing on 57th. Really kind of pathetic, this whole brochure. Here's hoping for an election day upset--and I don't mean mayoral.

TA said...

Leslie had a couple of men out forcibly handing out fliers in front of the 57th Street coffee shop by the Metra this morning. I found this ironic being only half a block from the boarded up Florian. Leslie's done such a wonderful job with business development in the 57th - 59th stretch by Stoney Island!