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You never know what injustice is going to stir the soul of a Chicago alderman.
For instance, a few days ago aldermen Tom Allen (38th Ward) and George Cardenas (12th Ward) were moved to outrage by the $75,000 Shakman compensation award to Jay Stone, son of alderman Bernard Stone (50th Ward).
Federal monitor Noelle Brennan awarded Stone the money on the grounds that his 2003 campaign for 32nd Ward alderman was unfairly torpedoed by the throngs of patronage workers who were dispatched by Donald Tomczak to work for Ted Matlak, the incumbent.
"We've got potholes to fix. We spend $20 million on snow removal and the federal monitor decides in her infinite wisdom to give somebody $75,000 because they lost an election? Can I sign up for that program?" Allen told the Sun-Times.
Cardenas was even hotter. "It's an outrage. This is crazy," he told Spielman. "The monitor has no clue."
I realize it may seem odd that Alderman Stone's son would claim benefits for the excesses of a machine that his father has loyally served. And, yes, Matlak probably would have beat Stone in 2003 -- though not by as much -- even without Tomczak's muscle.
But you can't blame Jay Stone -- an passionate independent -- for the politics of his father, who didn't even support him in the race.
Furthermore, political campaigns are at the heart of the Shakman case. The compensation awards stem from a lawsuit filed by Michael Shakman in 1970 after his unsuccessful run for delegate to the state constitutional convention. Shakman argued he lost because because of all the payrollers forced to campaign for his machine-backed opponent.
Eventually, Shakman's lawsuit freed payrollers from having to campaign for the machine. And it freed independents, like Jay Stone, from having to face an election-day patronage steamroller. It's one thing if all those city workers really were for Matlak. It's another thing if they were coerced. Funny, Matlak didn't do nearly as well after the feds shut down Tomczak's political organization (Matlak lost to Scott Waguespack last year).
So, yes, Allen could have filed for Shakman compensation, provided, like Stone, he had enough guts to go up against anyone with as much clout and city workers as Matlak had back in 2003.
I appreciate that aldermen Allen and Cardenas are finally speaking out against wasteful city spending. But I find it curious that they choose to take their first great stand over the relative peanuts dished out to Stone. I mean, just think of all the potholes we could have filled and the snow we could have plowed with the money saved from, oh, let's see, Hired Truck, the Duffs, the Soldier Field renovation, overruns at Millennium Park, the Block 37 underground train station, and countless TIF handouts to well-connected downtown developers. Funny, those scandals and deals came and went with nary a peep of protest from Cardenas, Allen or most of their council colleagues.
I suppose the aldermen are selective opponents of wasteful spending. As long as it's Mayor Daley doing the wasting, it's OK.