11/25/2013 02:44 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Ending Chicago Politics as Usual

On Nov. 8, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order to declare and distribute a TIF Surplus, putting millions of our property tax dollars back into our public schools. This order comes after years of pressure and organizing from community groups, including members of the Grassroots Collaborative.

Though the return of this money will provide at least some relief for Chicago Public School students suffering from the school closures, teacher layoffs and budget cuts imposed by the administration earlier this year, the relief may be only temporary, since Mayor Emanuel enjoys complete control over the amount of tax dollars given in this way to our public education system, if indeed any are given at all.

On Nov. 13, the City Council, in a 37-11 vote, failed to eject the TIF Surplus Ordinance out of the Rules Committee -- that fabled black hole of the Council "where good legislation goes to die." By voting to not even consider this ordinance on the council floor, our aldermen neglected the opportunity to finally provide real legislation to determine the way that surplus tax dollars are declared and distributed back to our public services. That same day, aldermen also voted down a resolution for a referendum to ask Chicago voters how they feel about an elected school board, ensuring that the fate of Chicago's public school students will remain in the hands of the mayoral-appointed board that chose earlier this year to close 50 schools and lay off 3,000 educators.

These votes continue the old story of unchecked executive power that has too long been a part of Chicago politics. The City Council routinely fails to act as a functional legislative body. Instead of finding real solutions to the problems facing Chicago's families, aldermen, like those who voted against the TIF Surplus Ordinance and School Board Referendum, have been a rubber stamp for the Mayor.

Even though 32 aldermen signed on to support the TIF Surplus Ordinance when it was introduced in July, many of these same aldermen lined up to denounce the attempt to bring the bill up for discussion last Wednesday. In the context of business-as-usual at City Hall, co-sponsoring legislation often means little as aldermen know that without mayoral support, good ordinances get buried in the Rules Committee to die. The audacity of the community to ask if aldermanic signatures mean actual support of the legislation? Aldermen even likened the Caucus's maneuvers to the "Council Wars" of the 1980s, overlooking the absurdity of such a comparison between yesterday's racist bloc of conservative aldermen and today's diverse and progressive caucus pushing to have a debate about how our money is spent.

The closing of more than 50 public schools, slashing of public services, and shutting down of public mental health clinics, in a context of skyrocketing violence and widening economic inequality, shows us just how dangerous unchecked executive power can be. It is time we create a new story in Chicago. We need independent leadership and elected officials willing to stand up for our communities to make democracy real in our city.

I am tired of seeing our neighborhoods devastated while politics as usual continues at City Hall. Grassroots Collaborative, working with our membership and partner organizations in a diverse coalition, has been knocking on doors and talking with residents across the City. We know Chicagoans are angry and ready for change. For the sake of our children and families, I hope we don't have to wait until after 2015. It's time for us to Take Back Chicago today.