With Operation Silver Shovel hovering over City Hall, the Christmas movie that comes most readily to mind at a City Council meeting is It's a Wonderful Life. The part where Jimmy Stewart screams at Uncle Billy, "One of us is going to jail--well it's not gonna be me!"
Still, Alderman Edward Burke was reminded last week of Miracle on 34th Street. At a finance committee meeting just before the full council session, several aldermen argued against the Daley administration's proposal to drop Good Friday as a paid city holiday. The proposal comes after a federal appeals court ruled that observing Good Friday in schools violates the separation of church and state. The aldermen kept asking a city lawyer why Christmas isn't a religious holiday too. The lawyer kept explaining that Christmas is celebrated by many non-Christians, what with Santa Claus and gift giving. Burke, the committee chairman, gazed out on the empty council chambers and said he expected mailmen to burst in any minute with bags of mail for Santa Claus.
Alderman John Buchanan pointed out that it would take six or seven days for the Chicago post office to get mail for Santa from one end of the city to the other, implying that if Kriss Kringle had landed here, he would have died in an insane asylum.
Burke was nonetheless inspired to offer a resolution at the full council meeting affirming the existence of Santa Claus. When Chicago children ask their parents if there's a Santa Claus, Burke declared, parents will be able to say, "Well of course there is darling, the City Council said there is!"
"Uh-uh, Alderman Burke, I see colleagues rising," warned Alderman Lorraine Dixon, presiding for the ever-absent Mayor Daley. "Do we have an objection? Alderman Ed Smith."
"I have some questions about this Santa Claus stuff," Smith began.
"Oh Alderman Smith, you don't believe in Santa Claus?" asked Dixon plaintively.
"Now wait a minute, I'm not saying that. I just, I have some questions, OK?" said Smith. "And I've been, I've been trying to get some answers to these questions for a long time, so perhaps this is the right place."
Smith recounted how his mother was never able to tell him where Santa Claus got the money to buy toys for everyone, or how Santa knew if Smith had been naughty or nice. "So if you can answer these questions, I'll vote for the resolution," he finished.
"OK," said Dixon. "Alderman Smith, in answer to all your questions, it's magic. Alderman Ocasio."
"There's a few things I need to know," said Alderman Billy Ocasio. "I mean, if Santa Claus is a resident of the north pole, where does he vote?"
"Now that's a good question," said Dixon.
"Does he vote Democrat? Does he vote Republican?" Ocasio went on.
"Another good question," Dixon agreed.
"Personal privilege, Madam President," called Burke.
"Personal privilege," nodded Dixon.
"Santa Claus votes by absentee in the 14th Ward," smirked Burke, who's apparently proud of his ward's renown for large numbers of absentee ballots. Burke's 14th Ward generated 2,440 absentees in the 1995 primary, more than any of the six wards that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners wanted investigated for absentee vote fraud.
The resolution passed.