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For two weeks of budget hearings aldermen publicly grilled city commissioners and department officials on line items, programs, and overtime, often running from morning to night. Aldertrack monitored aldermanic attendance at each budget hearing, starting with the best attended meeting, the all-day overview with Budget Director Alexandra Holt, Chief Financial Officer Carol Brown, and City Comptroller Dan Widawsky, to the final hearing on Friday October 9.
These attendance totals are based on the amount of hearings alderman attended for each individual agency, not total days they were present. And since it is common for aldermen to walk in and out of the chambers during meetings, Aldertrack, which attended every meeting, marked aldermen present if they showed up at some point in the meeting, even if it only for a few minutes. Here's our spreadsheet for a breakdown of attendance by hearing.
As Budget Vice Chair, Jason Ervin (28) attended every meeting. He took over whenever Chairman Carrie Austin (34) took a break. While some Council watchers expected Austin to break early because of her lengthy hospitalization last month, she chaired a large chunk of hearings and often stayed until the end of the day.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) attended 26/32 meetings
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) attended 26/32 meetings
Ald. Nick Sposato (38) attended 25/32 meetings
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) attended 25/32 meetings
Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24) attended 24/32 meetings
In addition to the first budget hearing, where 90% of the Council was present, the budget hearing for the Police Department and the Department of Streets and Sanitation had at least 40 aldermen present. The 9:00 a.m. morning meetings tended to have the lowest attendance rate and shortest meeting times.
We reached out to every alderman who had attendance on the lower end for comment. Most didn't respond. Aldermen who did respond were quick to point out it's common to send a staffer in their place, to have private conversations with commissioners offline, or in the case of committee chairs, to listen to a speaker that live broadcasts what happens in the chamber to their office. "Just because we aren't down there doesn't mean we aren't listening," Ald. Walter Burnett (27) told us. We noted him present at 15 of 32 meetings.
Christian Ficara, a staffer for Ald. Brian Hopkins (2), said he often sat in place for Hopkins, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy on Sep. 29. "While Alderman Hopkins was tending to the birth of his first child, myself, and at times a second member of our staff were present during the hearings. We would update the alderman on a daily basis, and he was in contact with commissioners by phone if he had questions regarding their testimony. Obviously, he did attend hearings when time permitted to be away from his wife and newborn son."
Ald. Derrick Curtis (18), another new alderman, also missed hearings for family reasons. He was on his honeymoon for most of the budget hearings. Ald. Deb Silverstein (50) wasn't present certain days due to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Sep. 27-Oct. 4). "I'm a very observant Jew," she told Aldertrack, "I don't even drive during it." She added that the Mayor knew and she had staff present every day.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19) had one or two staffers at meetings in his place when he couldn't attend. He also attended the International Council of Shopping Centers convention.