Another Perspective

Time for a Change

Chicago today votes on its city council members, whose political principles appear to be modeled on San Francisco and Stockholm.

By 2.26.07

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The November 2006 elections were a resounding defeat of the Republican Party, attributed by many to an overzealous, entrenched government that overstepped its mandate to govern. Today's city election offers Chicagoans the opportunity to send the same message to their City Council members, who have similarly betrayed them.

From a nanny state standpoint, Chicago has become the laughingstock of the nation, and its City Council is largely to blame. Once home to Al Capone and Bugs Moran, who scoffed at Prohibition, it has become one of the most prohibition-friendly cities in the country. Smoking ban? Got it. Ban on driving while holding a cell phone? Got it. Ban on foie gras? Not even the European Union, whose onerous regulations are the stuff of legend, has seen fit to ban foie gras.

Virtually every trendy ordinance proposed across the country has been introduced at one time or another in City Hall, where aldermen apparently feel it is within their mandate to legislate arcane elements of citizens' lives. A Google search for "Chicago City Council useless law" results in over 2,400 hits. "Chicago City Council stupid law" results in almost 10,000.

In the past six years, the City Council has passed a "Positive Parenting Resolution" that "encourages non-violent discipline" for children -- enforcement and funding aside; mandated that the City Council (look, they even pass laws about themselves!) recite the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting, despite the objections of several aldermen; attempted to determine how anyone in possession of an elephant must store and discipline the animal -- a regulation that applies only to the Lincoln Park Zoo and traveling circuses; and further limited the behavior of homeless panhandlers -- who, given their situations, seem to not care too much about societal conventions anyway.

Nor are the City Council's concerns limited to the confines of the city limits. In 2002, the Council condemned the nation of China for its persecution of Falun Gong, tossing diplomatic issues to the wind and pre-empting the State Department. In 2003, it condemned the USA Patriot Act, a federal law. In 2005, it passed a resolution demanding the removal of troops from Iraq…which, last time I checked, was not within the City Council's mandate.

Alderman Ed Burke's proposed trans fat ban -- which, if passed, would make Chicago the first major city in the country to limit trans fats -- assumes that residents are unable to make proper eating choices. He would prefer the city make those choices for you. Essentially, he knows better than you what you should put in your body. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before they tell you when to eat, and how much.

Most frightening, however, is Alderman Burke's conviction that such a move is not only his duty, but his right as an elected representative. In an interview with Jim Lehrer's "NewsHour" in August 2006, Burke asserted that "if the restaurants won't voluntarily change their policy and adopt a healthy means of preparation, then I think it's clear that municipal government has the right to step in and legislate."

Where does the city's "right to step in and legislate" end?

At this point, it seems like the only loony law that hasn't hit Chicago is the ban on size-zero models, and that's probably only because Chicago doesn't have a fashion week. Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily an impediment to the law being proposed. The foie gras ban passed, despite the absence of foie gras facilities anywhere in the city of Chicago.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a nation characterized by strong local governments and a decentralized federal government to oversee matters of mutual interest -- those too complex or costly for any one state or municipality to address, like national defense. I doubt, however, that they intended municipal governments to enact volumes of feel-good legislation. For the City Council to pass edicts on elephants and foreign policy while ignoring education, infrastructure, and the economy is an insult to Chicagoans.

In November, Americans took a stand against a government that ignored their wishes, electing a new class of politicians they hoped would be more in touch with their interests. It's now time for Chicago to elect aldermen who realize that holding office is a privilege, not a right, and respect the limitations of their mandate to govern.

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About the Author

Nicole Kurokawa works at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.