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City Council Follies

Government Serving the People

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If there were any real opposition in the City Council, Mayor Daley wouldn't know it.

The council approved Daley's 1997 budget last week by its usual lopsided vote of 49-1. Only aldermen Helen Shiller and Joe Moore had anything to say against the budget, and Moore voted for it anyway. Daley didn't hear them. The minute the debate started, he scooted outside to enjoy Alderman Eugene Schulter's birthday cake.

He was back in time to hear Alderman Burton Natarus plead for more money in the future to repair vaulted sidewalks. "Some of [the holes in] the vaults are so dangerous and so deep that I'm afraid if somebody falls they will disappear," said Natarus earnestly. "Thank you very much."

Next the council voted on the 1997 tax levy, including a $9 million property tax increase to fund public library improvements. This gave nearly everyone a chance to make a courageous speech in support of reading.

Natarus spiced his speech up with an attack on the library board. The board, he complained, had refused to accept money from a group of his affluent constituents who "wanna participate in the building of a library and wanna contribute money into a public-private partnership."

Daley answered him in the kind of careful, quiet voice normally reserved for lunatics waving loaded guns. "We have uh, there is a fund-raiser, a non-for-profit, that takes, asks people to contribute money in, for the Chicago Public Library," he said. "Gimme me the list of names and I'll call them, and they can give us the money..."

"Mr. President," said Natarus, clearly wishing to avoid any tangle with the mayor, "with all due candor, the library board has a list of those names....I'm sorry that they have to accept my criticisms; what I say is true. These people have offered to give money, and they, it's been rejected--"

Daley lost his hostage negotiator tone and cut Natarus off with his normal excited babble: "I'll call 'em this afternoon when I get back to my office, call 'em right up!" That created the enjoyable image of the mayor sitting behind his desk on the fifth floor, dialing up a group of Gold Coast swells to beg for money. "Hello, Mrs. Palmer? This is Mayor Daley. I hope I haven't interrupted your dinner. I understand you were interested in giving some money to the library..."

Alderman Berny Stone praised the tax increase and took a jab at Natarus, implying that Natarus didn't support the library funding. Natarus came out swinging: "Mr. President, point of personal privilege. It is very unfortunate that my intellectual colleague is guilty of something that I've said of him for years," he boomed. "He only likes to hear what he wants to hear! What only goes into his brain is what he censors and he puts in and out, like a filter. I never, ever said in my speech I wasn't gonna vote for the tax increase....Now if you wanna answer me on a point of personal privilege," he told Stone, "I think we oughta discuss it at lunch."

Stone, who'd sat through most of Natarus's tirade with his cheek resting on one hand, threw back his head and laughed.

Later, Natarus spoke up once more: "I want to thank my colleague Alderman Stone for knowing how to pull my chain and engaging in a lively debate."

"Watch for those vaulted sidewalks!" giggled Daley.

--Cate Plys

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