Democracy's Shing Lamp | Our Town | Chicago Reader

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Democracy's Shing Lamp



The first post-Huels City Council meeting was a strange blend of old and new. It was new, for example, not to see former alderman Patrick Huels swaggering about in suits so expensive they almost made him look portly rather than fat.

Huels, Mayor Daley's floor leader, resigned under fire October 21 after a series of Sun-Times revelations about his private security company. Among other questionable dealings, Huels's company received a $1.25 million loan from a trucking contractor, and Huels helped the trucking contractor get a $1.1 million city subsidy.

It was new to hear Alderman William Banks, chairman of the Zoning Committee, interrupt his committee report to announce he was abstaining from voting on some zoning applications because of a possible conflict of interest. One of his relatives was "either a broker or attorney" in three instances.

But it was a comforting bit of tradition to hear Alderman Edward Burke give an entertaining speech chock-full of historical details, this time on his resolution to absolve Mrs. O'Leary and her cow of responsibility for the Chicago Fire. Burke has been dodging some heavy artillery himself for his association with Huels's company, as well as conflicts of interest in his law practice. Some days it seems like the Sun-Times editorial page is on a scratched LP and the needle can't get past the line "Burke must go!"

The cow resolution had already passed Alderman William Beavers's Police and Fire Committee and was up for a vote from the full council. Burke called Mrs. O'Leary "an easy scapegoat" for 19th-century Chicago newspapers that liked to vilify Irish Catholics, "who had not yet assimilated into the dominant American middle-class culture."

"Mr. President, as I said at the committee hearing, it took the Irish 126 years to clean each other up," said Beavers.

"Hahahahahah!" erupted Daley.

"But they wanna put it on the one-leg man. Peg Leg Sullivan, you know," Beavers continued.

"He was Irish!" someone yelled.

"But he wasn't Catholic. He was a Protestant," Beavers retorted.

Alderman Bernard Stone couldn't let the resolution pass without comment. "My problem with the current motion is that I'm wondering if Alderman Burke is next gonna try and say that George Armstrong Custer wasn't responsible for the massacre at the Little Big Horn," he noted.

Burke sat back in his chair and smirked. Just like old times.


Aldermen Thomas Allen and Ginger Rugai introduced an ordinance that would force elected officials to resign after a felony conviction or "other such infamous crime." That could have meant something--if they'd done it anytime between Alderman Jesse Evans's June felony conviction and his last council meeting on October 1.

Evans was convicted for crimes like bribe taking and extortion. He hung on to his job and his paycheck until October 15, the day before his sentencing. The bizarre specter of Evans at meetings pretending he wasn't a convicted felon produced not a peep on the council floor. In fact, many aldermen chatted, laughed, and shook hands with Evans at his last meeting. Including Allen.

--Cate Plys

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