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Democracy's Shining Lamp

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Alderman Ray Frias made his first speech on the floor of the Chicago City Council since being acquitted of accepting a bribe, attempted extortion, and lying to the FBI in the federal Silver Shovel probe. Frias, whose entrapment defense required him to admit taking a $500 bribe, didn't apologize for bringing still more disrepute on the council. In fact, he later told reporters he plans to run for reelection.

No, Frias's speech supported a resolution calling for the council's transportation committee to hold hearings on reduced federal and state funding for the CTA. "I understand that being an alderman is a very responsible position," began Frias, who was caught on videotape telling a government mole that he'd prefer weekly payments to a lump-sum bribe.

Next he worried that recent CTA service cuts will "adversely affect not only the residents of the 12th Ward but the businesspeople of the 12th Ward." He's evidently less worried about their being represented by someone who's also been filmed telling the same mole that he became a legislator to make money because "that's what life's about."

Many of Frias's colleagues aren't worried about his recent work in front of the cameras either. Brand-new Daley appointee Alderman James Balcer, who sits next to Frias, shared numerous chuckles with his acquitted seatmate. So did Alderman Frank Olivo, who sits behind Frias. Alderman Michael Zalewski, who sits halfway across the chamber, came over at one point, and he, Olivo, Frias, and a sergeant at arms practically had a private party. Frias was in a touchy-feely mood with other chummy colleagues. He put his arm around Alderman Jesse Granato during one of their many chats, and also put his arm around Alderman Ricardo Mu–oz.

So long as Chicago aldermen don't think someone's wearing a wire, they're willing to be seen with just about anyone.

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Alderman Ed Smith forgot to maintain the fiction that the City Council isn't run by Mayor Daley. Alderman Edward Burke had just introduced two changes in the council's committee positions, which are ostensibly decided by the council. Alderman Thomas Allen succeeded ex-alderman Patrick Huels as chairman of the Transportation Committee, and Alderman Patrick O'Connor succeeded Huels as vice chairman of the Finance Committee. Both are enviable assignments.

"Any questions?" asked Burke. "Any objections? Any complaints? Any, uh, weeping or gnashingof teeth? Any surprise or disappointment? Hearing none, then I move the adoption of the resolution."

Burke noted that the Transportation Committee will soon be renegotiating the CTA's 50-year franchise. The original negotiations, said Burke, "led to the creation of the Chicago Transit Authority by the General Assembly of Illinois at the behest of the then-alderman of the 50th Ward, one of Alderman [Bernard] Stone's noteworthy predecessors, Alderman Quinn, who as soon as they established the CTA left the City Council to become the vice chairman of the CTA. I believe in the neighborhood he was known as Hot Stove Jimmy Quinn? Because they said he'd steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke?"

"No, no!" laughed Stone.

Smith spoke next, and that's when he slipped up. "I think the mayor is to be commended for this appointment," he said. "Alderman Allen is a very capable individual and I think he'll do a great job with that committee."

"The mayor had nothing to do with this," said Burke, barely able to keep a straight face. "This was a groundswell of support from Alderman Allen's colleagues."

Or, as Allen told reporters of his new assignment, "I'm glad the mayor had confidence in me."

--Cate Plys

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