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City Council Follies

The Living Republic

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The high point of last week's City Council meeting came when Alderman Edward Burke congratulated Alderman Jesse Granato on his upcoming marriage. "Speak now," quipped Alderman Ed Smith, who sits near Granato, "because afterwards you hold your peace!" Burke didn't catch Smith's witticism, so a chortling Alderman Dorothy Tillman repeated it for him.

If that sounds more like a floodplain than a high point, you're right. In fact, the complete absence of interesting exchanges last week allows time to look instead at the remarkably friendly rivalry between Tillman and Smith. They're part of the mob running to replace U.S. Representative Cardiss Collins, who announced her retirement last November.

Neither alderman is shy about touting higher aspirations during council meetings. Tillman is perennially late to meetings, but still arrived before Smith last week, and so took the opportunity to hand out her campaign literature to everyone sitting around her.

Both aldermen were in particularly good electioneering form at the November 15 meeting, when the council passed Daley's $3.64 billion budget. Here's how Smith explained his support for the budget:

"Now I'm gonna support the budget, and the reason why I'm gonna support the budget is because when this budget is finished next year my constituents will have 40 new alleys that are resurfaced, 15 new streets that will be resurfaced, and 14 new sidewalks. Now when I get to Congress next year," he paused for the council's laughter, "the people in my ward will have a big smile on their face because they're getting all of these amenities for about $7.50. Now--"

Smith broke off to glare at some noisy gossiping going on behind him, where Tillman and Alderman Ray Suarez were huddled around Alderman Carrie Austin's seat. "Shhhhh!" said Smith, and Tillman and Suarez scattered.

"Looks like we've got some other congressional candidates!" chuckled Mayor Daley.

"Yes you do!" barked Tillman.

"I don't want you people to get upset because I'm leavin'," Smith resumed. "I'm comin' back, I'm comin' back to visit! But uh, because of the economic levels of the community that I serve, it's very difficult for people to pay for all of these services that they need, and it is incumbent on me to do whatever I possibly can to get my streets and my alleys, my sidewalks fixed before I leave. . . . And I'm gonna encourage my colleagues to vote for the budget, because if you vote for it, it will help me to get to Congress faster. Thank you very much!"

Tillman, not to be outdone, answered a roll call that day with, "The congresswoman votes aye!" Later, she asked to split an amusement tax apart from an ordinance including several other taxes.

"Well technically," said Burke, "to separate and divide the question requires a majority vote. If the distinguished alderman, future congresswoman, wants to make that motion, she's certainly welcome."

"The congresswoman, soon to be from the Seventh District, the alderman of the great Third Ward, would like to separate the two," Tillman affirmed.

"Well I suppose that if we want to be collegial here and allow the distinguished alderman from the Third Ward to have the ability in her congressional campaign to say that she voted against the amusement tax but voted for everything else, we ought to give her that opportunity," said Burke.

As the meeting wound down, Alderman Burton Natarus indulged in a rambling speech supporting development in downtown Chicago. "Do I have to listen to this?" asked a plaintive Tillman. "I got a campaign to run."

--Cate Plys

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