Aldermen Vote Their Conscience! | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

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Aldermen Vote Their Conscience!

Our Annual Roundup of Political Atrocities

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Presidential election years generally cough up more than their share of political atrocities, but we would have to scour the history books to top televangelist Pat Robertson's letter opposing an equal rights amendment in the state of Iowa.

The former presidential candidate opined that the feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women, but rather "about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

Gosh, I didn't know you had to leave your husband to do all that.

Robertson's bewitching remarks were almost topped by another former presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan, who epitomized the spirit of the Republican convention by calling for a cultural and religious war. Which prodded columnist Molly Ivins to observe that "many people did not care for Pat Buchanan's speech; it probably sounded better in the original German."

But these national atrocity-meisters have nothing on us. This is Chicago, the city where bridges break down by springing up. We produce a whole special kind of atrocity. Take, for example:

The Atrocity of Conscience: The City Council, in response to the mayor's wishes, rolled over and gave Commonwealth Edison the right to keep picking our pockets for another generation or two. But Alderman Larry Bloom drafted an equal-employment-opportunities amendment to the franchise agreement, which miraculously passed with the support of several Daleyites.

Com Ed spokesman John Hogan denounced Bloom's amendment as "a clear-cut intrusion by the city into the way we do business," and the mayor himself showed signs of gastric distress.

How did it pass? "I was confused," said Alderman Carol Bialczak. More cogently, Alderman Edwin Eisendrath explained, "There was no direction so we voted our conscience."

The mayor promptly provided the direction that unconfused Bialczak and relieved Eisendrath of his burden. All the Daleyites flipped back and undid the Bloom amendment, once again making the world safe for Com Ed.

One of the flippers was that champion of the oppressed, Alderman Luis Gutierrez, who was then rewarded by the mayor with the support of the white ethnic voting majority in the newly created "Hispanic" Fourth Congressional District, permitting the alderman to win his primary, which he would have lost if he'd had to rely on the Hispanic vote. Now, some 800 miles away as a congressman, perhaps Luis will occasionally have a fit of conscience that does not get redirected.

Off the Map: Yes, Luis had a bizarre new district to run in, shaped like a pair of stereo headphones on crack. But other wonders were worked in the various remaps, which turned out to be affirmative action programs for white ethnics.

For example the state legislature, which once had 14 majority-black House districts, was revised to provide 17 such districts. But greedy white Machinesters took advantage of black divisiveness and dropped the actual number of black legislators down to 11.

More cartographical atrocities came in the City Council, which tried to pass a racially discriminatory map but was thwarted by an obscure ordinance that forced a public referendum to choose between that map and a racially fair one. This being Chicago, naturally, the discriminatory map was elected overwhelmingly.

At the same time we voted for ward committeemen, who ran from their original wards; the next day they became committeemen of the new wards, in which some do not live. Such is the case of John D'Arco, who is way outside the now minority-dominated First Ward, which now has no alderman within its confines either. Nor does the Hispanic 12th Ward. But the lucky 42nd Ward now has two aldermen within its boundaries--and who is talking about running there next time but our all-time favorite candidate, Jane Byrne?

Today's What Woman? City treasurer Miriam Santos, fresh from a victory over Mayor Daley on the ethics front, quickly trivialized her own courage by posing for a cover of Today's Chicago Woman wearing a pair of boxing gloves and a tank top. Then she demanded of her political opponents a special delegate's seat at the Democratic National Convention to head a Hispanic delegation. How do you say chutzpah in Spanish?

Mel in Extremis: In the closing days of his campaign against Representative Gus Savage, candidate Mel Reynolds was reportedly shot while driving to a campaign event. We found out hours later he wasn't shot but his car was shot and he was injured by flying glass. A day after breathless reports from the hospital we learned it may not even have been a shot. Maybe a rock, maybe not. Reynolds then appeared at a press conference wearing a Band-Aid on his forehead. Too bad nobody looked under the Band-Aid. On election night Reynolds first thanked a philanthropist for his victory, then a soon-to-be-indicted suburban GOP official. Not a word for the shooter. Or rock thrower. But maybe a patronage job.

Mell in Extremis: Alderman Richard Mell probably broke the world's record for presidential endorsements. First he came out for Mario Cuomo. Then he came out for Ross Perot. Then he backed off Perot and was accused of purloining the Perot volunteer list for Illinois. Then he came out for Clinton. Then Perot came back in the race . . .

Patting Jack's Back: Republican State's Attorney Jack O'Malley deservedly won a landslide victory over Alderman Pat O'Connor, whose main claim to fame had been putting half his family on the city payroll and voting against Harold Washington every chance he got in the City Council. Strangely enough, O'Connor got the endorsement of the Harold Washington Party, which must have cost him a pretty penny, but that didn't stop a massive vote against him in the black community.

But the funniest aspect of this race, barely touched on in the press, was the dumping of O'Connor by his fellow Democratic committeemen. He even came close to losing the mayor's own 11th Ward. Surely this couldn't have been another sneak attack of conscience?

Name Change? In addition to the fringe political party, whose symbol should be a cash register, a library is also named after Harold Washington. But they don't have enough money to keep it open all the time, so now it is to be closed on Mondays. Do you suppose they'd be able to find the funds if it were named after Richard J. Daley?

Richard Failin'? Off and running for governor is who else but County Board president Richard Phelan, who ran on a pledge of tax abatement and quickly went on to give us a gigantic tax increase. This is sure to sit well with downstaters and suburbanites. Governor Jim Edgar is said to be a major contributor to the Phelan campaign.

Rich & Carol & Al & Alan: In a Senate race filled with atrocities it is hard to rank them in order, though we might start by considering the implications of the fact that nearly 53 percent of the vote went to a candidate who 56 percent of the public thought was less than honest. Of course she was running against a stiff who took a $1.1 million fee in a business shutdown that cost hundreds and hundreds of Illinoisans their jobs. The same stiff who practically had her in bed with Gus Savage in one of the ugliest series of campaign commercials in the state's history. But then what would you expect of the media consultant who did those wonderful racial ads for Senator Jesse Helms? How smart of Rich Williamson to have hired Arthur Finkelstein. Carol Moseley Braun should give Finkelstein a patronage job.

Braun got even more help from another unwitting benefactor, Al Hofeld, who spent $4.5 million of his own money to trash incumbent Alan Dixon. If Braun doesn't give Hofeld a patronage job he should go into horse racing, where third place is still considered in the money.

Braun proved that you don't have to be perfect to win. She managed in the primary to be both for and against a capital-gains tax cut and to be for both single-payer and multipayer national health plans. Asked why she cast a good but unpopular vote against library censorship, she answered several ways, first regretting she had cast it, then saying she was in the bathroom when the vote was taken and maybe somebody else pushed her button, then owning up to it and saying maybe she should have voted only "present," then denying having said she regretted it, and finally blaming the media for everything.

She had even more answers to queries about the disposition of an inheritance that should have gone to pay part of her mother's medicaid bill but went instead into other pockets, including her own. When Public Aid finally caught up with her, more than half of the nearly $30,000 inheritance had to be turned back to the state. When the media caught up with her she niftied that she felt as if she "had been raped." Which the New Republic aptly compared to Clarence Thomas's comment that he was the victim of a "high-tech lynching." Thomas, by the way, should be considered Braun's most important unwitting benefactor--but he already has a patronage job.

As for outgoing Senator Dixon, didn't his commercials do a wonderful job trying to remodel him as a populist progressive at the cutting edge of health care reform? And after only 11 1/2 years of ignoring the issue! Nevertheless, during the depths of the Senate campaign I sometimes wondered wistfully whether the people did the right thing in dumping Dixon. Then Justice Clarence Thomas would cast another Supreme Court vote and I wished I could vote against Dixon all over again.

The Rich Watch: Our mayor deserves an atrocity column all his own, but space permits the enumeration of only a few lowlights. First, when Chicago was flooded, who was fired as the scapegoat? Was it the person whose department had the primary responsibility, Ben Reyes, who just happens to be a key mayoral fund-raiser in the Hispanic community?

Or was it a long-term, exemplary civil servant named John LaPlante, whose department did not have primary responsibility and who acted appropriately upon learning of the flood hazard?

I'll give you a hint if you can't remember: LaPlante was once a member of the Independent Voters of Illinois.

Then there was Daley's most energetic example of government by tantrum: jumping up and down and declaring the Lake Calumet airport dead, dead, dead after the Illinois Senate didn't roll over the way the City Council does. Please don't believe, as Daley's detractors do, that he pulled the plug simply because he knew there was a government report coming out declaring the site an ecological disaster area. Why shouldn't he get a site that would destroy 10,200 housing units the way his father used to do, instead of the piddling 200 units that the governor's site would require?

And which Rich is the right Rich? State's Attorney Rich Daley, who warned for eight years that casino gambling would bring crime and blight and a dozen more plagues down upon our city? Or Mayor Rich Daley, who thinks it's a great way for the city to get rich?

And how can we forget his wonderful municipal finance advice: "I'm for cities going bankrupt"? Or this sage comment on our national character, following the Bulls' repeat championship this year: "When you celebrate something in America you break a window and grab something."

Of course Daley's defenders will tell you that the mayor said these things with his tongue in his cheek. Instead of between Commonwealth Edison's cheeks, where it usually is.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Roberts & Jim Siergey.

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