Singing His Own Praise
Most aldermen do their singing to the feds. But Sixth Ward voters now have a chance to elect a candidate whose claim to fame is that he sings at Patti LaBelle concerts.
According to Leonard Barr, an aide in the Cook County treasurer's office, LaBelle, who's famous for inviting audience members to join her onstage, asked him up at the Regal Theater a few years ago. "Patti said to me, 'Boyfriend, you look like you can sing,'" Barr recalls. "Well, she didn't have any idea of the ability that was before her."
Barr belted out "If You Don't Know Me By Now," and he's been singing at her local concerts ever since.
Barr does a lot of his campaigning in churches, hitting four each Sunday. "They always lean on me to sing," he says. "When I get through there's so much shouting that I never get a chance to give my campaign speech."
Incumbent Freddrenna Lyle writes him off as just another pretty voice. "People don't look on him as a serious, focused kind of individual," she says. "He's nice to know, but you wouldn't want him to marry your sister."
LaBelle's office says they have a warm relationship with Barr--up to a point. "He calls all the time asking for tickets and stuff," says Michele Roy, a spokesman for the singer. "They're sick of his calling."
Queen of the Homeless Hordes
To no one's surprise, the mother of all accusations in this year's campaign comes out of Uptown, where Alderman Helen Shiller's opponents are at it again, trying to stir up paranoia about the poor.
According to rumors being spread at various north-side bus stops, beauty shops, and restaurants, Shiller, one of the council's only independents, teamed up with her pal, Cook County clerk David Orr, to secretly change the law so homeless people could vote anywhere they want. On election day, the story goes, she plans to bus 'em in by the thousands, thus guaranteeing her reelection.
As rumors go it's a beaut, exploiting Shiller's reputation as a radical and playing on voters' fears of the homeless. There's one problem--it's not true. "First of all, we didn't change the law," says Luis Perez, Orr's press aide. "Second of all, we couldn't change the law even if we wanted to--changes in election laws come from the state. And third of all, do you really think someone could just quietly change the law to such a degree without anyone noticing?"
According to the Board of Elections, the laws regarding voter eligibility have remained pretty much the same over the last few years. To vote, any resident (homeless or not) needs an address, even if it's a shelter. "You can't just have people being bused all over the city voting wherever they want," says board spokesman Tom Leach.
"If Helen had the powers they say she has, she'd be mayor by now," says an elections board insider. "Listen, I don't care if Shiller wins or loses, but these rumors are ridiculous. Every election it's the same old thing. They try to scare the voters into voting against her by saying she's doing this or that with the poor.
And every year she keeps on winning. Look, people--try something else.
It ain't working." --Ben Joravsky
Not So Great Expectations
The kamikaze kid of this year's election has to be Curly Cohen, a Bobby Rush backer (and proud of it) running for alderman in Bridgeport. "There's no question it's an uphill battle," says Cohen, as he tramps around the neighborhood chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes and knocking on doors adorned with American flags and stickers that say "God Bless America, Nuts to Busing."
"No one with the name Cohen is going to get elected in Bridgeport."
He has plenty of issues thanks to former alderman Pat Huels, who enraged merchants by down-zoning local business strips. Last October Huels resigned after the Sun-Times reported that a security company he owned had received a $1.25 million loan from city trucking contractor Mike Tadin. But Bridgeport voters have always been loyal to the 11th Ward regulars, who this time around are backing incumbent James Balcer. Cohen's the underdog.
Not that he cares. It's a gas handing out flyers to residents who seem to regard him as a harmless diversion. "I'm just hoping to start something new and open doors for people in the future," Cohen explains. "I'm about ten years past really wanting it, so I can do whatever I want."
The Yogi Berra award goes to the 21st Ward, where former alderman Niles Sherman is trying to get back into office.
"Look at where I come from and look at where the rest of the candidates come from," he told residents at a recent forum. "Wherever they are, they can't cover up where they haven't been in the past. And if they haven't been anywhere in the past, they aren't going anywhere in the future."
In 1987, 21st Ward voters bounced Sherman from office--in part because he was a little too chummy with Ed Vrdolyak. Sherman says he holds no grudges. "Well, our community does have negativity," he said at the forum. "But I ignore it."
Sherman's an old hand at bromides. Perhaps his greatest quote came in 1982, when he explained that he was voting for Fast Eddie as chairman of the Democratic Party because he represented a "coming-together process to broaden the horizons for everybody so all can get to the rainbow and stick our hands into that pot of gold."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Leonard Barr, Curly Cohen photo by Marc PoKempner; Helen Shiller photo by Marc PoKempner; and Niles Sherman photo.