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City Council Follies

September 13, 1995/Democracy's Shining Lamp


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That was Alderman Edward Burke laughing loudest at last week's City Council meeting.

Burke had the satisfaction of introducing an ordinance to pay $8.9 million to taxpayers soaked by the city's $80 million property tax hike in 1986. The ordinance settled a decade-old lawsuit brought after Mayor Harold Washington pushed through the biggest property tax increase in city history, over Burke's strident protests.

Burke methodically went through the city's reasons for settling the suit--for instance, it never held required hearings, and approved the increase after the deadline for tax hikes. He was almost done when Mayor Daley interrupted him.

"Point out, this had nothin' to do with me," Daley giggled.

"Pardon, your honor?" said Burke.

"This is prior to my administration," Daley explained, giggling some more.

"Yes your honor, but not prior to mine!" Burke fairly exploded. "I was here! Alderman [Berny] Stone and I were here! And we predicted at the time what was going to happen! Nobody wanted to listen!"

"All right," laughed Daley. "So ordered."

Later, Burke got in a dig at Alderman Burton Natarus, who voted for the 1986 tax hike. Natarus had brought the meeting to a complete standstill over a parliamentary technicality. Alderman Billy Ocasio wanted to refer back to committee an ordinance that the full council had already passed and reconsidered, a procedure that's supposed to make a vote final.

Natarus objected, then said it would work if the council agreed to suspend the rules first, and added, "I hope you never do this again, because if you want to finalize a law, just remember what I said. The way to finalize a law is making a motion to reconsider....So I think we oughta figure out another way to handle the alderman's problem quite frankly, because this is gonna haunt us again."

Burke started to make the necessary motions, but Natarus piped up again: "It's gonna hau-aunt uuussss!" he trilled. "The little voice is gonna be quiet nowwww!"

"Let us hope," Burke smirked, "that the distinguished gentleman from the 42nd Ward's observations are as valid as they were in 19--" He never got to say "86."

"Let's not get into that one!" Natarus snapped, while Burke and others guffawed. "I mean, we can go on with that one all day! But you know what I said is true!"

The bickering continued. "I just wanna say that I'm not arguing here to be mean," said Natarus at one point. "I don't wanna go away from this meeting being a meanie. That's the point. I wanna go away being a nice guy that's trying to be helpful."

"Natarus being goofy again," muttered Alderman Richard Mell.

Another mini-controversy erupted when Burke tried setting the next council meeting for October 3. Natarus loudly objected, since Yom Kippur begins that day at sundown. Once again the council milled about and yammered for some minutes before agreeing to meet instead on October 2, and then agreeing that October 2 will be a Monday.

"Madame President," boomed Natarus, addressing Alderman Lorraine Dixon, presiding as usual for the absent Daley. "I wanna say, only in America do we have deliberations such as this, and I say God bless America!"

"Monday, October the second. So ordered," said Dixon.

"Amen," said Burke.

"This is a zoo," said Alderman Carrie Austin, heading for the door.

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