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City Council Follies

Democracy's Shining Lamp

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Ordinarily, the most interesting thing about Alderman Eugene Schulter is the way he pronounces the "council" in "city council."

Schulter says "CON-sil" with a very distinctive, nasal intonation, rather than the common "COWN-sil." Alderman Terry Gabinski is the only other alderman who uses that pronunciation, and since he rarely finds it necessary to speak at all, it's much less noticeable.

At last Tuesday's council meeting, Schulter gained another distinction--an unusual one for the normally loyal administration alderman. His was the lone voice opposing a cable franchise along the lakefront for 21st Century Cable, a company bursting with associates of Mayor Daley. The company will become the first competing cable service in the city, going up against TCI Chicago Cable.

The 21st Century Cable application has been bumping around since 1992. The company has yet to impress Schulter, who was chairman of the council's now defunct cable television committee. Last week, Schulter detailed how 21st Century had failed to show it has the experience, technical capability, or financing to serve the franchise area. He noted that the company's application reports that its only experience consists of a 12-channel cable system serving 159 out of 314 homes in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois. And he especially questioned whether 21st Century would provide service in poor neighborhoods.

But Schulter is no quisling. He studiously avoided mentioning that some of his colleagues would vote for 21st Century Cable anyway, since its investors include close Daley allies like Democratic fund-raiser Ed Joyce and developer Elzie Higgenbottom.

Alderman Burton Natarus, a harsh critic of TCI Chicago Cable, spoke next. When the council discussed cable TV last November, Natarus claimed he even has to pay the parking meters for Chicago Cable repairmen visiting his ward. "I think everybody in the room oughta listen to the alderman of the 47th Ward," he boomed, meaning Schulter. "I don't think anybody knows more about cable television than he. He was the head of the committee--"

"Excuse me, Alderman Natarus," interrupted Alderman Lorraine Dixon, filling in for Daley at the podium, since the mayor generally finds something else to do during sensitive debates. "We will ask that the aldermen please come to order and respect the speaker, and also--"

"Oh, that's all right, they don't like listening to me anyhow," quipped Natarus, displaying remarkable insight. "I want them to listen to Alderman Schulter and not me. I don't think anybody knows more about the industry than he does."

Then Natarus trashed Schulter's entire argument. "The real issue in this case is service! Service," he thundered. "I can't understand how anybody can get on the council floor and say they're for competition, say they're for opening it up, and then when an applicant comes in and wants to provide competition...they're saying we don't want the competition, we don't want another applicant!"

The council resoundingly passed 21st Century's franchise with two dissenting votes. Daley materialized at the podium even as the votes were being tallied.

Alderman Edward Burke saw the speedy council passage of his ordinance barring ultimate sports fighting in Chicago, introduced at the last meeting just three weeks ago. "Of course those of us who are involved in Chicago politics are used to gouging of eyes, kicking, biting, scratching, and kneeing in the groin, so we're not all that disturbed about it," Burke observed. "But certainly citizens who aren't involved in Chicago ward politics would be shocked at what goes on."

--Cate Plys

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