Chicago aldermen had a busy time at last week's City Council meeting, overwhelmingly passing Mayor Richard Daley's $3.64 billion budget and his $19.5 million property-tax increase. Not too busy for some good old-fashioned sniping, however.
Alderman Joseph Moore proposed cutting $500,000 from the budget for lawyers representing aldermen who are defendants in a lawsuit over the 1990 ward remap (Moore and other antiadministration aldermen brought the suit, charging that the map deliberately reduced minority voting power). "I particularly think it's outrageous," Moore said directly to Daley, "since sitting right next to you is the head of the city's law department, one of the finest law departments in the country--"
"You worked there before--you should know," Daley interrupted sarcastically, referring to Moore's former job in that department.
Moore continued: "A law department that is fully capable of representing the city and the [defendant aldermen] in this remap case. So I would suggest rather than flushing more city taxpayers' dollars down the drain and lining the pockets of very big and powerful law firms in the city...I urge all of you to accept that representation, and let's not fleece the taxpayers. Thank you very much."
Alderman Edward Burke, one of the defendants in question, took the suggestion in the spirit it was probably intended: "First of all Mr. President, I'm sure that Mr. Solovy"--Jerold Solovy, a partner at Jenner & Block, who's representing Burke and others in the remap case--"will be delighted to hear about Alderman Moore's comments about lining his pockets, so that the next time Alderman Moore calls him asking for a campaign contribution he'll keep that in mind."
"Oh, unline his pockets," quipped Daley.
Asked later whether Solovy really is a campaign contributor, Moore said, "Well, he was. He hasn't contributed to me lately. Let me put it that way."
Alderman John Buchanan said he supported the property-tax increase because it would affect only one of his constituents. The tax increase will mean an extra $15 for a $100,000 house. Buchanan didn't name his solitary constituent, but former alderman and current radio talk-show host Ed Vrdolyak couldn't be more recognizable if his face were plastered on milk cartons.
"Now I had a very, very minor radio-program guy run a show on his radio, and he suggested that you all be called, and I heard from him," Buchanan began. "He said, 'Well, what about this real estate tax increase?' Well, I think it's time that we know that the only house in my area that will pay a $15 increase will be the guy on the radio, because he's the only guy out in my neck of the woods got a house worth a hundred thousand dollars. The only guy. My house isn't worth a hundred [thousand]....I figure my increase'll be fi' dollars. Because my house is only worth a third of his house."
Vrdolyak's house and grounds, set on a typical block of east-side bungalows, takes up about eight lots and the alley connecting them. It includes a tennis court, which looks as much at home on that block as a replica of Buckingham Fountain.
Buchanan warned his colleagues to expect some backlash for their tax votes, especially from Vrdolyak. "Because the roll call's going to be read, I know, on the radio, for those that listen--and I don't know how many of you do. The mayor tells me he's never heard of the show," Buchanan deadpanned. "So the $15 increase that I will pass, to impose upon my radio programmer, will at this point probably--"
"He can afford it, hehehehe!" giggled Daley.