In the 44th Ward there's one question on everybody's mind: was Alderman Bernie Hansen in sunny Arizona when the snows came? And does it matter?
OK, that's two questions, but it's been easy to get confused in Lakeview ever since Kai Abelkis, a stay-at-home dad with independent ties, did the unthinkable and challenged Hansen, the entrenched fourth-term incumbent."I heard Bernie was in Arizona. Check it out," says Abelkis. "We knew three days in advance that snow was coming. How come he didn't come home? It's part of a bigger pattern. The ward's not getting the service it deserves. He has other jobs. He's got a real estate license, he's the [Democratic] committeeman. He's a part-time alderman, part-time Bernie. I'll be a full-time alderman."
Abelkis's charge strikes at the core of an alderman's existence. If the alderman's real purpose, aside from providing comic relief, is to oversee services, and the job of plowing after the blizzard got done without him, who needs an alderman?
"Because we need an alderman, that's why," Hansen explains, his voice rising with indignation.
But was he in Arizona on January 2?
"I go out there for New Year's every year. Is that his big issue? Gimme a break. I got right back as soon as I could."
And when was that?
"I said the night of the sixth. But what difference does that make? I was keeping in touch long-distance. I know who to call, I know how things work, I can pick up a phone and make it happen no matter where I am.
"And since I've been back I haven't stopped working. My short weeks are 65 to 70 hours. I'm working with every single community group to make sure the 44th Ward's the best place in the city to live and work and raise the family. If this guy [Abelkis] thinks it's so bad, why did he move here four years ago? Huh, did you ask him about that? Part-time Bernie? Ha! I'm out in the street every morning by five. He should come with me, if he can get up that early. I'll show him how to get things done."
Too Dumb to Run?
It's been said that Chicago's biggest fools are those in the City Council. But what about those fools who want to sit on the council but can't get it together to make the ballot? Of the 283 candidates who have filed to run for alderman in the city's 50 wards, 200 might be kicked off by the end of January for various election-law oversights.
The matter is most embarrassing in the 49th Ward, where politicos pride themselves on their smarts. Five challengers lined up against Alderman Joe Moore, who was supposed to be vulnerable because, well, after eight years among so many cantankerous Rogers Parkers, a guy can make a lot of enemies. Yet as of this writing only three remain on the ballot, and they're hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
"Joe might not have any opposition," says Mathias Delort, the election-law lawyer hired by a couple of Rogers Park residents close to the Moore campaign. Delort's been working busily on Moore's behalf since the December 15 filing deadline. He got one candidate, Glen Brooks Jr., bounced from the ballot for not having enough valid signatures ("You need 127; by the time we were done checking his signatures he was down to about 50"); another, Karen Hoover, may be removed for the same reason ("She's still a few signatures over, but we're going to argue the validity of some signatures before the Board of Elections"). As for the others, Teri Tuffner withdrew on her own, Grady Humphrey doesn't know what office he's running for, and Gregory George Balos isn't sure where he lives. OK, it's a little more complicated than that.
"On his statement of economic interests, which all candidates must file, Humphrey states he's running for alderman of the 49th Ward, when in fact he should have stated 49th Ward of the city of Chicago," says Delort. "The Balos position is that he grew up in a six-flat with a hyphenated address. At some point he moved from one apartment in the complex to another, but he never changed his voter's registration."
In other words, Balos's address on the polling sheet is different from the address on his filing petitions because the address of where he thinks he lives is different from where he actually lives. "The hearing officer ruled in favor of Humphrey and Balos, on the grounds that they were not attempting to deceive the voters," says Delort. "But we think the officer was being too liberal and we're appealing to the full board. I think we can win. There's case law on our side."
The other candidates call Moore a bully for badgering them with election-law technicalities. But Moore says he's only holding them accountable to the law, asking, "If you can't even make the ballot, what kind of alderman will you be?" Delort says important issues are at stake: "Elections are governed by rules that candidates must follow. The Board of Elections issues free pamphlets that tell candidates exactly what to do. It's not our fault if they don't read them."
Call Me Spanky
Sometimes great statesmen put aside ego in the interest of public service. So it was that John Quincy Adams ran for Congress after he left the White House. Now Spanky the Clown (aka Ray Wardingley) is running for 19th Ward alderman only four years after he won the Republican mayoral primary and got clobbered by Mayor Daley.
Q: Do you think you can beat incumbent Virginia Rugai?
A: To be honest, it's 50-50. We don't have any money, because my apartment just burned in an electrical fire. Some friends of mine just printed up paper pamphlets and they're willing to go door-to-door for nothing.
Q: What have you been up to the last four years?
A: My brother and I had a limousine service that went out of business. It was going pretty good until weather wrecked the car.
Q: Have there been any benefits from running for mayor?
A: No, nobody offered me a job or nothing.
Q: Is Spanky the Clown dead?
A: Well, let's put it this way. People still call me Spanky. It's a profession I had, and I enjoyed it. Call me Spanky? OK. Fine. I enjoyed the clown. Call me that if you want. That's who's running for office.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Chicago Sun-Times/Jim Newberry/Bruce Powell.