Until now, Alderman Robert Shaw's supernatural powers were confined to suits loud enough to wake the dead. But at last week's City Council meeting, Shaw apparently channeled the spirit of Johnnie Cochran, who hasn't even died yet.
Shaw morphed into Cochran during the council debate over Alderman Ginger Rugai's controversial plan to erect 11 cul-de-sacs in North Beverly along 95th Street and Western Avenue. Rugai says they'll reduce crime and eliminate dangerous traffic cutting through side streets. Opponents believe they're meant to barricade North Beverly from black neighbors.
Shaw is one of those black neighbors, and he doesn't much like it. Early in his rambling speech, he noted that a sizable contingent of Beverly residents who attended a hearing the day before were opposed to the Rugai plan. All he needed to complete the Cochran effect was the mean Black Muslim bodyguards when he declared, "Many of the people who sat in here were opposed to, if I may quote, the so-called rush to judgment."
Sounding suspiciously like Cochran equating Mark Furhman with Hitler, Shaw compared the Beverly cul-de-sacs with former Arkansas governor Orval Faubus opposing school integration and former Alabama governor George Wallace trying to block black students at the University of Alabama. Then he really got rolling.
"A cul-de-sac is nothin' more than a three-piece suit dressed up, but many of the people of Chicago are not buyin' this three-piece suit," Shaw thundered. "You got to go back and should go back and buy another suit that fits, and this one does not fit the spirit of Chicago." Thankfully, he refrained from adding, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
The flourishes were a nice touch, but Shaw is known as a firebrand. Not so Alderman Michael Wojcik, who gave the council a jolt. Wojcik, a tall, easygoing guy, exploded in an emotional speech supporting Rugai: "The next time I gotta go down to my, on my block, I want my kids to be safe! And I'm tired about it! I'm tired of hearin' the rhetoric from all the baloney! Alderman Rugai has a point! She's worked with her neighbors, she wants it safe, and it oughta be safe! Just like I want it safe in my neighborhood and I want it safe in your neighborhood, Alderman Shaw, so my kids can come to your neighborhood and not be afraid!"
Afterward, Alderman Dorothy Tillman stood to leave the chambers and paused in front of Wojcik, clearly impressed. "I didn't think you had it in you!" she marveled.
Alderman Burton Natarus, another notorious council orator, walked over from his seat across the room and spoke loudly to make sure everyone in the press box heard him. "You gotta take it easy, because you're gonna get a reputation like me!" he boomed. "The press is gonna ridicule you! Aldermen aren't supposed to get excited!"