Twenty-eight aldermen attend the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in person, while 22 aldermen chose to appear virtually, Wednesday morning, April 21, 2021. Wednesday marked the first in-person council meeting since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago. Credit: Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times/pool

CHICAGO — Chicago no longer has aldermen — at least according to a bill signed by Gov. JB Pritzker Thursday.

The bill, which was primarily introduced to expand voting options and move the state’s 2022 primary from March 15 to June 28, also called for the elimination of the term used to describe Chicago City Council members for 184 years. Now, the gender neutral “alderperson” will be used to describe city elected officials in state legislative materials.

But not everyone is on board. A top city attorney said he does not interpret the law as a “directive” for the city to change its own language.

And before Pritzker signed the bill, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) questioned why the state legislature was making decisions about what to call Chicago officials.

“We saw the legislature change our name without our knowledge, without our consent, to be called alderperson,” Cardenas said at an unrelated meeting Thursday. “They should have named it something else, I guess, because ‘alder’ is still there. I’m going to still say ‘alderman,’ because that’s what I’m used to.”

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) agreed.

“I will always be an alderman… so if anybody wants to call me alderperson, I will consider that greatly disrespectful to me. You can refer to me as lot of things, just don’t refer to me as alderperson.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who introduced a non-binding resolution in March calling for the General Assembly to pass legislation replacing the word “alderman” in all places within statutes with gender-neutral word “alder,” said Springfield’s decision to use “alderperson” is a step in the right direction.

He said he introduced his ordinance — which didn’t even get a hearing — to allow for more flexibility and accuracy for City Council members to add whatever suffix they would like.

“It’s very awkward to call our members of City Council that identify as women  ‘Alderman.’ It’s strange. I watch people fumble all the time,” Vasquez said. “What we are doing is providing clarity.”

He said he doesn’t mind being called alderman, alderperson or alder and that ultimately, members should feel open to using what suits them best.

“I understand how different people feel about it… our goal with making it alder was so everyone can pick and choose how they want to identify,” Vasquez said. “If it’s something that the General Assembly wants to amend for it to be alder, it might be less contentious.”

Though women now make up about 30 percent of the City Council, some have rejected the term “alderwoman” and “alderperson.”

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

“If I wanted to be called Alderwoman Dowell I would,” Dowell said. “I prefer to be called alderman.”

Ald Jeanette Taylor, however, prefers “alderwoman.”

“It’s about identity,” Taylor previously 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.”

While the state law eliminates the term “alderman” in statues, it does not require the city to adopt the policy, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine said told Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) during a Thursday hearing.

“I think to use the term Alderman is fine. I think if members of the city council prefer alderwoman, then that becomes a matter of personal choice and courtesy,” Levine said. “So legally, the state has rewritten it to be alderperson — they have simply changed references in the statutes, but I do not believe there is any kind of directive there, that is telling the city of Chicago what to call its elected officials.”

While Sposato said “if somebody wants to call me alderperson, I’m going to take that as picking a fight with me” during the discussion, he later admitted that was a bit of an overreaction to “leftist BS.”

He said he will call council members whatever they prefer.

“Just show me some respect, that’s all,” he said. “If you don’t agree and want to have a debate, let’s talk about it.” 

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