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Balance of Power

Trio of cities advance anti-corruption measures

The government reform movement is gaining traction in some of America's biggest cities. Corruption investigations involving public officials in Chicago, Baltimore and Los Angeles have prompted changes, or proposed changes, to everything from campaign finance rules to the authority of individual city council members.

On Monday, Lori Lightfoot was sworn in as Chicago's new mayor and immediately called for changing the culture of what has long been considered one of the most corrupt cities in the country. In her inaugural address, Lightfoot acknowledged that "putting Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence is ... well ... a little strange."

"For years, they've said Chicago ain't ready for reform," she said. "Well, get ready because reform is here."

The former federal prosecutor's first action was to sign an executive order ending the practice of aldermanic prerogative, which gave each council member control over almost every action by a city department in his or her district. Also called aldermanic privilege, the issue came to the forefront earlier this year when longtime Alderman Edward Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly trying to shake down two businessmen seeking to renovate a Burger King in his ward.

Lightfoot said aldermen would still have power to help people in their neighborhoods. "It simply means ending their unilateral, unchecked control over every single thing that goes on in their wards," the new mayor said. "Alderman will have a voice, not a veto."

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Here are reforms being considered in other major cities:

Baltimore: The City Council is considering a proposal to allow for removal of the mayor with the approval of three-fourths of its members. Now, the mayor can only be removed after being convicted of a crime. The proposal, which would require approval by the council and then by voters in a referendum, was prompted by the initial refusal of Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign in the wake of a growing scandal over hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of books she wrote. Pugh, who had been on leave citing health problems, resigned May 2.

Los Angeles: A City Council committee gave initial approval in April to a ban on developers contributing to local elections if they have projects pending before the city. It is thought to be the first ban of its kind in the country. The full council will take up the issue Thursday, considering a motion that would direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance and for the convening of town hall meetings on the subject. The council is responding to an FBI investigation reportedly looking into evidence of bribery, extortion and money laundering involving real estate investors, city politicians and their aides.

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