CHICAGO

John Arena, Chicago's 'Rebel' Alderman, Talks His New Caucus And His Cause

03/19/2013 05:53 pm ET | Updated Mar 20, 2013

Does Chicago's City Council have a rebel on its hands?

Currently, the council of 50 -- between its historian alderman, its "hipster" alderman, its cinnamon roll-slinging alderman and yet another indicted former alderman, to name a few -- is not short on soundbite-friendly members.

Per a recent Chicago magazine analysis, the council could well name a de facto rebel alderman. Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in May 2011, aldermen have doled out 1,333 "yes" votes compared to a mere 122 "no" votes. Chief among the contrarians? With 18 "no" votes to his name, 45th Ward Ald. John Arena.

Arena, who has represented the city's Northwest Side 45th Ward since April 2011, is also a member of the new Progressive Reform Coalition, a caucus "dedicated to creating a more just and equal Chicago" whose formation was curiously followed one day later by a second City Council "progressive," caucus titled the Paul Douglas Alliance.

He has a caucus and a cause -- to "represent my constituents well and do my job to the best of my ability" -- but Arena told HuffPost he's not sure about the label of "rebel," admitting that 18 "no" votes over nearly two years hardly qualifies as a "miraculous event."

Still, Arena said in a recent interview that he hopes more of his colleagues will do their due diligence" by not shying from the tough questions, particularly when it comes to privatization deals that haven't panned out well for the city in recent years.

"This isn't about who's the mayor of the city, but this is about the City Council having all the authority to propose ideas as well as vet ideas from the [mayoral] administration. It is really up to the City Council to exercise that authority. We are not an arm of the administration, we are a separate legislative branch, and until we realize that as a council, as Toni Preckwinkle said, we will continue to participate in our own marginalization."

Speaking of the mayor, HuffPost asked, did Emanuel have anything to say to the members of the Progressive Reform Coalition about their new formation?

"My personal point of view is that the response of the mayor was the formation of the Paul Douglas Alliance."

Arena recently took part in the latest edition of our ongoing My Chicago questionnaire series.

Where in the city do you live and how long have you lived there? Portage Park since 1994.

What is your age? What is your occupation? I am 46 and serve the 45th Ward as Alderman.

What was your first job in Chicago? In 1984 after graduating high school, I was not sure what direction to take. My father helped me get a job as a runner at the CBOE, the largest trading pit in the world at the time. I worked there until 1986 when I left to go to NIU.

Which Chicago "celebrity" -- living or dead, real or fictional -- would you have over for dinner? What would you talk about? Frank Orrall of Poi Dog Pondering. Art, music and being human.

What is your favorite “last call” bar? Di's Den, 5100 W. Irving Park Rd. But I don't stay out until last call much these days.

Where is your favorite place to grab brunch? Anywhere, as long as it is with my family.

What are your go-to spots when you have visitors in town? Gale Street Inn for ribs, Gift Theatre and (soon) Filament Theatre, Portage Theater, National Veterans Art Museum, City Newsstand to browse. The Cultural Center, I love that building.

What is the last cultural event you saw in the city? What'd you think? The last two were gallery openings at Arts on Elston and SiLO Art Space. Both local and both amazing. We also walked in the Northwest Side Irish Parade, the best parade in town.

If you had to have your last Chicago meal for some tragic reason, where and what would it be? Anywhere, as long as I was with my family.

Cubs or Sox? Cubs.

Wicker Park, 1993 or Wicker Park, 2013? Wrong question. Portage Park, 1993 or Portage Park, 2013. Definitely 2013.

Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago-style pizza or Chicago-style politics? Well, I am an Alderman, so I have to go with the politics.

What advice would you give to a new Chicago transplant? Explore. Chicago has so many secrets. To know her, you have to get to know the neighborhoods.

What do you miss the most when you're not in Chicago? When I am gone too long, I miss my home. The comfort and familiar feel.

If you could change just one thing about our fair city what would it be? The mentality that the "Chicago Way" is somehow OK.

Describe Chicago in one word. Resilient.

In 1951's "Chicago: City on the Make," Nelson Algren wrote: "Once you've come to be a part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real." Through My Chicago, HuffPost is discussing what, to this day, makes the patch we call home so lovely and so broken with some of the city's most compelling characters.

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