Watch your words

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Evidence that the agenda for Wednesday’s City Council meeting was relatively light could be found in the first question asked of Mayor Daley at a press conference afterward.

"Mr. Mayor, Alderman Fioretti has proposed a ban on metal baseball bats at Park District facilities and the schools because of the injuries that seem to be more prevalent with baseballs hit from those bats. What do you think of that?"

The mayor seemed to be prepared for this question and didn’t hesitate before looking right at the reporter and answering. "Well, I think especially they’re going to be looking at the number of lawsuits that get filed with things like that. Like with anything else you have to be careful with what type of things you’re using. You know, baseball. So you have to look at it very carefully."

Several of the journalists cast questioning looks at each other. One decided to ask for clarification: Does that mean the mayor would support an ordinance like this?

"Well, I don’t know. You have to find out. You don’t want any child to be injured, so you have to look at it very carefully."

The mayor called on someone else.

Alderman Burke wants to ban texting while driving,” the reporter said. “What do you think of that?”

Granted, all but about a half hour of the two-hour council meeting had been taken up by speeches honoring local Olympic athletes and the heroic deeds of police officers and firefighters, with the last 30 minutes reserved for aye votes on bonds, zoning amendments, traffic regulations, and the like. But it’s not as if the city doesn’t have any problems that need addressing, and in the council lounge many of the aldermen who weren’t talking up Barack Obama’s chances were quietly discussing the city’s lousy budget prognosis and wondering how much they would have to cut or tax.

In August budget officials predicted Chicago’s deficit would grow to hundreds of millions of dollars by the end of next year and vowed to keep every option for confronting it on the table. Aldermen say they’ve only been told to expect layoffs as well as delays or cancellations of their menu items--the alley repaving, traffic light installations, and other small capital projects they select on their own. They obviously aren’t happy about either possibility, since they expect the layoffs to delay service delivery and the postponements to reduce opportunities for impressing voters. One is even murmuring about asking Mayor Daley to cut some of his own beloved programs, like flower planting.

So far, though, city officials haven’t said what they intend to do, and while the mayor shared lots of ideas about lots of issues at his press conference, he didn’t say squat about dealing with the budget shortfall.

"You can’t be using your phone while driving," he said in firm support, more or less, of the proposed text-messaging ban. “So whatever, you can’t, no, especially using one-hand driving is very dangerous.”

Another reporter asked Daley what he thought of the possibility of the state leasing the lottery for an infusion of cash. Amid a lengthy analysis of the U.S. economy, the mayor said it was probably a good idea. "This is a very difficult economy, and it’s not going away for a couple of years. That’s the prediction of all the economists. It’s going to be a long, long, tough economy, and next year’s going to be even worse. So I have always thought that if you have a public asset [pdf] that can be used for infrastructure purposes, about putting people back to work in businesses like that, I think it’s very, very important. . . . You can’t spend money if you don’t have money. The only people who do that is the federal government. They print it. That’s why we’re really in jeopardy in this economy—they print money and they just print money and they keep printing it and that’s why the value is less and less every year. . . ."

Daley said he wasn’t worried that the O’Hare expansion project had been delayed by a court battle; he was confident that it would clear its final legal hurdles soon. On the other hand—"Well, I’m worried about the Sox,” the mayor said. “I mean, you worry about the Sox, losing two games yesterday.”

And the Cubs? "The Cubs have a good team. You know, they play small ball. They’re in a drought now, but look at their record. They’ve done a tremendous job all year. We’ve been up and down, the Sox. This is not good."

Are the Cubs going to choke again? "No, I don’t think so."

Another reporter tried to break in: "Alderman Suarez wants to—"

But Daley wasn’t done. “Because they’ve been playing smart ball—good pitching, hitting, and defense. I mean, they’re not hitting the home runs. They’re hitting singles and doubles and they’re scoring.”

What about Chicago’s budget problems—any progress or new ideas coming to the forefront? "Oh yeah, you better believe it," he said. "Chicago, every city, every town."

Right. . . . Well, what is the city considering?

"You know your budget problems are your own. Cutbacks, layoffs, you know it’s going to get worse every year. So we’re in the same dilemma. It’s not going to go away. It’s going to get worse and worse. . . . We are in a recession. I know the politicians in Washington don’t want to tell you that, but we are in a recession. . . . "

Next question. "The real estate transfer tax is down, as you pointed out in your preliminary budget, but now Alderman Burke is proposing no longer trying to tax transactions that are within divorce proceedings where one spouse gives up property to another spouse. Do you think that should continue to be taxed?"

Daley’s face contorted in disgust before he emitted a high-pitched noise that sounded something like"Yeeeh, yunnett!"

"But he says it’s an unfair penalty when there’s a divorce, which is emotionally wrenching and financially draining enough."

The mayor regained his composure. "Lawyers are all taken care of. Remember that: the lawyers are all taken care of in a divorce."

"But if they’ve already paid once, why should the spouses, the divorced spouses, pay twice?"

"They can take it out of their lawyer’s fee."

Clearly pleased with his answer, Daley began walking away from the podium. But one last question was shouted after him: Had he been following the "lipstick on a pig" controversy?

The mayor slowed up for a second. “Be very careful about what you say in public,” he said.

 

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