Aldermen were lined up to grant TV interviews in the lounge behind council chambers Wednesday morning, and they weren’t talking about the ban on text messaging while driving that was about to pass in the next room.
"Clearly, Chicago’s going to benefit, from a very practical point of view . . ."
"We need help with our infrastructure . . ."
"I’m sure the mayor will be looking to the president-elect for some help from the federal government . . . "
By virtue of either poor or brilliant planning by finance committee chairman Ed Burke, who sets the dates of meetings, the City Council always seems to convene the day after elections, when chances are even slimmer than usual that it will take the time and energy to scrutinize Mayor Daley’s plan to, say, provide $12 million in public funds to help a high-end chain open a new hotel at Block 37.
This meeting was no different. The council ran through an agenda that included—in addition to the text message ban and the Block 37 expenditure—approval of new energy efficiency standards for buildings, the mayor’s plan to consolidate several city departments, the issuance of $1.3 billion in general obligation bonds, and a prohibition on ice cream trucks in the 18th Ward; and the Daley administration also tried to provide a little cover for aldermen wary of supporting its widely criticized plan to lower the car-booting threshold to two tickets, proposing a six-week “amnesty” period in which late fees will be waived for scofflaws who decide to pay up.
But aldermanic talk naturally kept returning to the same thing everybody else was talking about: the presidential election. On the council floor they stood to congratulate Obama. In the lounge they discussed plans for his soon-to-be-vacant senate seat. Twenty-ninth Ward alderman Ike Carothers said he and other west-side elected officials had met and decided to ask Governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint Congressman Danny Davis to finish Obama's term. A south-side alderman said others were backing Jesse Jackson Jr., and a longtime supporter of Luis Gutierrez was hoping his man might be in the mix. At one point I overheard another alderman jokingly announcing a run for Blagojevich's job. His campaign slogan: "I couldn’t do any worse than that guy."
In his press conference after the meeting, the mayor said city officials had been discussing a plan with union leaders that could use early retirements to avert some of the hundreds of layoffs planned in the 2009 budget, which aldermen are expected to approve at a November 19 meeting. But it was when he was asked how he’d reacted to news of Obama’s victory Tuesday night that the pitch of his voice got higher, he stood up a little straighter, and he gripped the podium more tightly.
"I think everybody jumped up in great celebration and witnessed what America’s all about," he said. "To make America proud. It’s a great country. It’s the envy of the world. That’s what it is—it’s the envy of the world."
He unfurled a congratulatory Obama banner. "And it’s paid for by my campaign committee, so you don’t have to write an article about it," he said, before offering an unprompted reflection on what he thought Obama's election had meant to the people of his city: "It was like a homecoming. It was not a football or basketball game, but it was like a homecoming. People from all walks of life, no matter who you were, came all together—people were smiling, happy, all across this city, I don’t care where you went."
Daley said that since Obama is from Chicago he’ll be more attuned to the needs of urban areas across the country, and he made a pitch for federal money to build a new transit system linking the city to places like Rockford, Milwaukee, Champaign, and South Bend. And, the mayor added, Chicago could use money for schools—that would also be a wise investment. And while we're on the subject, how about some infrastructure projects to put people back to work? Urban areas could really use something like that . . .
The mayor visibly recoiled from a question about whether the city would have to cover any of the costs of policing the Grant Park rally. "Why are you so negative?" he said, scowling at the Sun-Times’s Fran Spielman. “You’re always so negative about Barack Obama. The man just got elected, and now you’re saying he’s not going to pay his bills?"
When pressed, Daley eventually promised that the city wouldn’t be out a dime, but he quickly returned to meditating on the election. "It was a very, very emotional night—you reaffirm your faith in America," he said. “It’s a celebration. It’s a homecoming. It’s a baptism. It’s a bar mitzvah. It’s everything put together from all your communities. People were smiling.”