It is customary for aldermen to continuously roam the council floor, like feral goats loose on a particularly tasty golf course. It's also customary for the aldermen to talk throughout even the most crucial debates, creating a steady hum as if they were all holding their hands over their ears and chanting "I'm not listening, I'm not listening, I'm not listening".
Which is why it was so unusual last week when Alderman Lorraine Dixon, presiding while Mayor Daley was out of the room, essentially told the aldermen to sit down and shut up.
Ordinarily, Dixon or Daley might halfheartedly bang their gavel once or twice and settle for a brief instant of reduced din. Dixon had already done that several times during a speech by Alderman John Steele, who was arguing against Alderman Eugene Schulter's ordinance relaxing liquor license moratoriums because it exempted large stores from new requirements for transfering liquor license ownership.
"The chair requests that the aldermen please take their designated seats," Dixon droned in her familar monotone. "Will the aldermen please take their seats in respect to Alderman Steele who is trying to make his point on the item that is before the body at this time?"
Most aldermen were surprised enough to actually sit down. That left Aldermen Robert Shaw, Sam Burrell and Dorothy Tillman standing in a knot near Steele, yammering away while Steele, Dixon and most of the council stared at them.
"They're talking about the Democratic convention," quipped Alderman Burton Natarus. After a few more long minutes of staring, the three dissident aldermen fell silent. But they never did sit down.
Alderman Robert Shaw again shined brightest at a City Council meeting, though this time he eschewed his notorious electric green doublebreasted suit. Shaw joined in a resolution honoring recently deceased Mathew Bieszczat, former alderman of the 26th ward, Cook County Commissioner and a municipal court bailiff.
"I did not serve with him here in this council, but I worked for Mat Bieszczat as the bailiff in the old Municipal Court Bailey," Shaw fondly recalled. "And I never forget uh, in 1979 when I became the alderman of the ninth ward, I guess the old (ninth ward) alderman was a very good friend of Mat Bieszczat. (Bieszczat) asked me, I met him in the hall down there one day, and he says, 'Why did you go out there and beat my friend?'" Shaw paused to chortle while Mayor Daley guffawed, then added, "He said, 'You shoulda stayed on the west side!'"