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Change From ‘Alderman’ To ‘Alderperson’ Gets Mixed Response In City Council

Ald. Jeanette Taylor noted the change is "about identity," but Ald. Pat Dowell said she prefers to keep the title "alderman."

City Council chambers at City Hall.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago

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CHICAGO — Chicago elected officials aired mixed reactions to an omnibus election bill (SB 825) on its way to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk that is set to change all official references to municipal elected officials from “alderman” to “alderperson.”

Some aldermen are thrilled with the change, others are lukewarm and some don’t see the changes included in the bill as necessary. The change from “alderman” to “alderperson” is part of a measure that also pushes the state’s 2022 primary election from March 15 to June 28, designates Election Day as a state holiday and allows voting in jails.

RELATED: Omnibus election bill would delay 2022 primary, expand mail-in voting and more

The push to move away from “alderman” previously bubbled when Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) introduced a resolution (R2021-379) in March calling for the General Assembly “to pass legislation replacing word ‘Alderman’ in all places within Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) with gender-neutral word ‘Alder.’”

The resolution was originally proposed for the City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations, Ald. Ed Burke (14th) sent the proposal to the Council’s Committee on Committees and Rules.

Co-sponsors for Vasquez’ proposed ordinance included Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ald Jeanette Taylor (20th), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Ald. James Cappleman (46th), Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garz (10th), Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Ald. Michael Scott (24th), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), Ald. Felix Cardona (31st) and Ald. Matt Martin (47th). 

The proposed resolution in the “whereas” section detailed that the term “alderman…derives from explicitly gendered language denoting an ‘elder man’ of the community” and that candidates seeking to run with any title other than “alderman” have been denied the ability to do so.

Vasquez told The Daily Line on Tuesday the goal of his ordinance was to “remove gender from the term,” and he arrived at “alder” after talking with colleagues in the City Council to see what would work for them. 

In talking with colleagues, Vasquez said he heard that “council member” and “alderperson” were too clunky, so his proposal stuck with “alder.”

Still, he said he is “elated” the bill passed both chambers. “It’s very awkward and I’ve seen it through my first couple years in the council” as people would refer to women in the City Council as aldermen. 

“I think alderperson, functionally, gets the same thing done,” Vasquez said, adding that it will be more difficult to remove or replace “ageist” terms.

Rodriguez-Sanchez said it’s “kind of uncomfortable” having to be told by the state legislature what titles can be used. “I’m confident the old ways are dying, and we are creating more space in our council,” Rodriguez-Sanchez told The Daily Line on Tuesday. “Having less gendered terms definitely opens space for the presence of more diversity and humanity in the Council.”

Still, Rodriguez-Sanchez said she wishes the change “would have happened sooner” and she hopes it helps develop “a different culture” in the City Council.

“I think people should be called what they prefer to be called,” Taylor, a sponsor of Vasquez’ resolution, told The Daily Line on Tuesday.

“It’s about identity,” Taylor said. “I am a woman. I identify as a woman. I beared five children. I’m not a man, I deserve to be called a woman.”

Taylor noted that her ward website uses the title “alderwoman” and that “we need to remember that in this country, change is good but change takes time.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she prefers to keep the title “alderman.”

“If I wanted to be called Alderwoman Dowell I would,” Dowell told The Daily Line on Tuesday. “I prefer to be called alderman. That’s what’s in the law.”

Dowell said it would have been “appropriate” for Vasquez to survey all his colleagues when proposing his resolution. “I would have shared with him my opinion,” she said, adding the changes “should have been socialized more.”

“I certainly would not want to be called Alder Dowell.”

Dowell, who chairs the council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations, also questioned how much money the changes will cost the city, if anything. The mayor’s press office did not respond for a comment on the proposed change.

Still, some are more ambivalent about the change. 

“I say whatever you call me just call me,” Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th) told The Daily Line on Tuesday. “We have so many other issues happening. We’re living in days when our focus should be serving our communities and not what our titles are.”

Coleman said she hopes the state lawmakers is also committed to focusing on “bigger” issues including ward remapping and ensuring communities have resources they need.

When she is working in her “official capacity,” Coleman said she refers to herself as “the very proud alderman of the 16th Ward.”

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said he supports the change but would have preferred the title “council member” or “councilor,” as “alderperson” still refers to an “elder” person.

“I understand something’s gotta change…for far too long people have gone with the status quo, and away with that I say,” Cardenas told The Daily Line on Tuesday, adding he would have like to have a City Council committee discussion on the matter.

“But we also have to come to terms with what we’re going to call each other,” Cardenas said, adding he doesn’t think the term “alderperson” is going to stick. “No one is going to call me alderperson.”

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said “there are more important things for the General Assembly to focus on” besides deciding whether it should be “alder” or “alderperson” and designating the state microbe.