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Government Serving the People

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Alderman Burton Natarus has developed the instincts of a grizzly bear. The last ward remap shifted downtown into Natarus's territory, and you can almost see him raking his claws against the skyscrapers to mark his range.

Chicago aldermen expect to rule in their own wards, a custom called "aldermanic privilege." But some aldermen disagree with Natarus's rulings when downtown issues affect the rest of the city, which Natarus finds increasingly infuriating.

At last week's meeting, Natarus growled at anyone who opposed a landmarking deal for the McGraw-Hill Building at 520 N. Michigan. The odd settlement tries to satisfy preservationists, who want the building landmarked, and developer John Buck, who wants to tear it down and build a Nordstrom's. So the building will be landmarked and then torn down, with Buck promising to put the old facade on the new building.

Alderman Mary Ann Smith, a member of the landmarks committee that had passed the deal two days earlier, said she would vote against it. She complained that committee members "were told...we shouldn't debate this building because it was not of citywide concern."

Hikers are instructed to play dead when they meet a grizzly. Smith may have wished she followed those instructions.

"We have a new philosophy in this City Council--it's the philosophy of Buttinsky," Natarus snarled at Smith. "You ever hear of Buttinsky? Buttinsky, very famous Russian political philosopher...a Buttinsky is a person with a great big long nose."

"That's Gabinski! Ahahaha!" quipped Mayor Daley, referring to Alderman Terry Gabinski, whose nose is really not remarkable.

"Stop representing the 48th Ward," Natarus taunted Smith. "Why don't you come down, I invite you, come down and run against me next time....I voted for landmarks before you even became an alderman.

"I told you I'm against traffic circles, I told you I'm against speed bumps"--projects of Smith's--"but if you want 'em in your ward I'm gonna vote for 'em. I really will," Natarus snapped. "People will go around in circles. Blessed those who go around in circles, for they shall be known as wheels. And when you have the first car hit that speed bump and somebody gets killed and we have to settle the liability in the City Council with financing as a result of a personal injury suit, then you know you'll come to me and say, 'Well, will you vote for it?' I'll vote for it, it's in your ward!"

Smith defended herself. "I think that if some of those comments were made about someone of a Jewish persuasion, they would be taken to be um, um, anti-Semitic," she said. "It's time for the personal attacks and the threats that've been made to some of the aldermen here when they decide to take a position against another alderman's point of view to stop....I was threatened in the committee discussion. You know, 'If you oppose this I'm gonna go after your traffic circles.'"

Natarus, who's Jewish, didn't let that pass. "For anyone to say to me that I just made an anti-Semitic comment, I regard that as an insult! Buttinsky has nothing to do with Judaism!" he roared.

"Somebody needs to send them to a movie!" Alderman Dorothy Tillman suggested loudly. "They should go see Evita!"

Natarus finally paused long enough for Alderman Eugene Schulter to get recognized. "Would like to interject a thought here," said the mild-mannered Schulter. "Would everyone just chill out, and cool their heels, and act like we're supposed to? Represent the people."

"Be my valentine!" giggled Tillman.

--Cate Plys

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