Developing Government Accountability to the People:
A Report Card for Chicago 2006
(Click HERE for Full Report)
“Government is too big and too important to be left to the Politicians.”
- Chester Bowles, former governor of Connecticut
The Report Card grades the city in seven key areas of justice and democracy: housing, education, criminal justice, the environment, transportation, economic development and jobs, and ethics. It presents an overview of the city’s actions in each area, grading the actions taken by the individual departments and the mayoral administration.
Rather than just critique, the DGAP Report Card offers manageable recommendations. These recommendations were solicited from sources across the city and include a broad spectrum of opinions and points of view. The City and Aldermanic Report Cards are to be used as tools for those seeking justice and a more inclusive, democratic Chicago. The hope is that community groups and residents from throughout the city will find it valuable in assessing the performance of their politicians, and that it will provide a standard of measurement for candidates seeking office. The reports can help focus and inform discussions on issues that the communities deem important as they condense previously unavailable, hard-to-find data in an easy-to-use format. Their very nature encourages accountability in our elected officials, and as new Report Cards are released in future years, residents will have benchmarks on which to judge improvements or deterioration of performances.
Who is DGAP?
Desirous of change, and recognizing that a diverse and dynamic network of community groups from all parts of the city working together makes each organization stronger, an assembly formed in February 2006 to create DGAP—the Developing Government Accountability to the People project. It is animated by a powerful mission:
To build and develop a comprehensive people’s agenda in order to take action on social-justice issues, and to create and to preserve a participatory and democratic society through collaborations among organizations and individuals.
Individuals, families and organizations have a right to government that serves their interests and operates in an open, inclusive, democratic manner. We are dedicated to preserving human rights for everyone. We believe in ensuring economic, social, racial, gender, environmental and cultural justice. Community residents have a right to information, to a decision-making role in matters that affect their neighborhoods’ well being, to set community standards, and to organize freely around issues of good government. Neighborhood residents are often the best experts on what their communities truly need.
The DGAP network determined that its first project would be to issue a City and Aldermanic Report Card on Justice and Democracy in 2006. This Report Card is the product of input from hundreds of concerned Chicagoans over many month’s time—black, white, Latino, and Asian, men and women, gay and lesbian, and residents of all regions and income levels contributed their views.
In September, DGAP convened a meeting of Chicago civic leaders, including former city officials, politicians, journalists and university researchers to solicit their views on the performance measures and DGAP;s criteria for assessing the aldermen. DGAP quickly followed the meeting with a historic Government Accountability Forum, a day-long event that brought together community leaders and policy analysts from the North, West, and South sides of the city, to discuss ways to analyze the state of the city and the performance of individual aldermen.
As organizations that represent the many constituencies and geographic areas of the great City of Chicago, DGAP network members believe it our duty to make government as accessible as possible to the people it serves. To do that, we must hold our elected officials accountable for the actions they take in our names and their decisions that affect our communities.
This report is the first step towards accomplishing that goal. It will not be the last.
For many years, Chicagoans have contended with a government that responds primarily to those with financial and political clout, while the concerns and issues of ordinary citizens fall by the way-side. Residents are refused a meaningful voice in the democratic process and denied true participation in their government.
After years of having their needs disregarded, many have lost faith in the city’s ability to respect and respond to the issues that matter to their families and their communities.
Yet Chicago has always been, and remains, rich in people power. The birthplace of community organizing in the 1930s, Chicago today is stitched together as much by vibrant community groups and passionate individuals as it is by streets and elevated tracks.
Activism has resulted in many victories over the decades, even, for a time, beating back the Chicago “machine” in the 1980s. But the death of Mayor Harold Washington heralded a debilitating blow to city-wide coalition action, as the temporarily dormant machine rose to fill the power void by reinstituting the patronage system and by ceding ward control to individual aldermen, thus consolidating control over major city issues.
Mayor Richard M Daley’s control over Chicago’s City Council, deemed emperor-like by Time magazine in 2005, has for 17 years been near-absolute. Most aldermen, meanwhile, exert unequivocal control over their wards.
But Chicago’s political climate is shifting.
Click HERE for Full Report