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City Council Follies

October 2, 1995/Government Serving the People

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Vice President Al Gore shared the billing at this week's City Council meeting with Alderman Lorraine Dixon's dog control ordinance. The dogs were considerably more interesting.

Gore became the first sitting vice president ever to address the council. He bored everyone to tears with a speech that took some shots at Republicans and proved that his staff can drop names of Chicago neighborhoods into a canned lecture. You could almost picture the speech transcript with "Mad-Libs" emblazoned at the top, sprinkled with blank lines above labels like "(successful Daley program here)."

The feisty dog debate began just as Mayor Daley slipped away to greet Gore before his appearance. Alderman Edward Burke, known as the council historian, started with a long discourse on early Chicago animal control laws that was apparently meant to kill time until Gore's arrival. His speech eventually degenerated into a reminiscence about his attorney wife defending a potbelly pig's right to live in a downtown condominium. "I assume I'm filling time here waiting for the, uh, vice president," he laughed.

Alderman John Steele objected to an amendment that cut a $100,000 insurance requirement for owners of dangerous dogs. Dixon said the insurance had been optional anyway. Steele insisted that gang members in his ward use vicious dogs to "terrorize" the community, and insurance would provide extra protection to people who are bit.

"In response to Alderman Steele's observations," said Burke, "I doubt that any of the gangbangers are going to go out and buy insurance for their dog anyway. But I must say I'm reminded of that old Inspector Clouseau movie, where Inspector Clouseau walks in to the hotel counter and there's a man standing there with a dog, and Clouseau says, 'Does your dog bit?'" Here Burke did a credible Peter Sellers imitation. "And the man says no. Clouseau reaches down to pet the dog, and suddenly the dog bites him right on the hand. And Clouseau turns to the man and he says, 'I thought you said your dog does not bit!' The man says, 'That is not my dog!'"

Burke waited for the laughter to die down, then added, "Not that it has anything to do with this ordinance."

"Nothing at all to do with this ordinance," agreed Dixon, who was standing in for Daley at the podium.

"How much longer are we going to have to fill in before the arrival?" laughed Burke.

The dog debate broke for Gore's speech and resumed with a sometimes teary Alderman Burton Natarus, who defended the dogs. Natarus took special issue with the ordinance's requirement to muzzle vicious dogs. "What is the first thing you do with a dog to make 'em vicious?" he thundered. "Ya muzzle 'em. Ya muzzle 'em. That is the first thing you do with a dog when you wanna start making 'em mean. Ya muzzle 'em."

"That's the same thing you do to make a politician vicious too," Burke remarked loudly. "Muzzle 'em."

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