Aldermanic privilege | Bleader

Aldermanic privilege

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During one of the many lulls in yesterdayday's City Council meeting, I stepped into the lounge behind council chambers. As usual, much of the business of the meeting was taking place there rather than on the council floor--the mayor's lobbyists were cornering aldermen for a chat, reporters were trying to catch others for interviews, community activists, political insiders, and former aldermen roamed about making their pitches, and council staffers and police officers traded gossip.

Joseph C. Ziegler Jr., owner of a south-side insurance agency and candidate for alderman in the 18th Ward, stood quietly to the side taking things in. "When I decided to run for alderman, I made it a point to come to every single City Council meeting so that when I come to be elected I know exactly what's going on," he told me.

As Ziegler talked a little more about his campaign against recently appointed alderman Lona Lane and three others, one of the mayor's lobbyists hurried by. They greeted each other warmly and shook hands. Then one of the assistants to the council sergeant at arms walked up to Ziegler.

"You'll have to hold your press conference out in the lobby," she said.

Ziegler looked stunned, since his "press conference" consisted of an informal chat with a single reporter. He was even more taken aback when a Chicago police officer appeared to provide backup. "Sir, you have to go," she said. "Now."

The officer saw Ziegler to the entrance to the lounge, where she asked another cop to escort him down the long hallway to the lobby. As he walked out Ziegler passed his friend and supporter, 21st Ward alderman Howard Brookins Jr., whose smile turned to a look of confusion as he saw the police officer trailing Ziegler so closely.

In fairness, I hadn't seen alderman Lane in the lounge when Ziegler and I were talking. Still, this clearly wasn't a matter of enforcing rules meant to ensure the separation of city governance and politics: several aldermen were openly discussing election campaigns in the lounge. And it wasn't about limiting the room just to aldermen and city officials--several lobbyists were at work. It seemed clear that someone had spotted Ziegler and requested his removal.

When I asked the assistant sergeant at arms about it, she would only say, "Press conferences must be held in the lobby." When I suggested that Ziegler hadn't been holding a press conference, she said, "Anyone can hold a press conference in the lobby."

Only some can do it in the council lounge.

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