Aldermanic privilege is a custom of the Milwaukee Common Council in which members defer to the local alderperson in matters relating to their district. Say, for example, that there’s a proposal to put an affordable housing development in a particular neighborhood. According to the practice of aldermanic privilege, if the alderman representing that neighborhood doesn’t want the development, the other alderpeople will vote against it.
There’s no written rule establishing this practice. It’s just been the way our city leaders have gotten used to doing business. It’s not the best way.
You know the saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”? The practice of aldermanic privilege means that the alderperson wields absolute power over development in their area. Over the years, many alderpeople have been prosecuted for crimes tied to abuse of this power, particularly demanding or accepting bribes or illegal campaign contributions to get a development through.
The system of aldermanic privilege opens the door to corruption while completely bypassing the democratic process. I believe that our community finds the best answers when we work together, not when one man — not even the elected alderman — gets to call all the shots.