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The City File

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Everyone talked about the oil crisis during the 1970s, but nobody around here did much about it, to judge from these tidbits in Transportation Facts (September 1987), newsletter of the Chicago Area Transportation Study: between 1970 and 1980, the average Chicagoland commute lengthened from 6.9 to 7.9 miles; mass transit ridership declined; car commuting increased; the number of households owning two or more cars increased from 590,000 to 900,000; and the average number of people per car going to work dropped from 1.16 to 1.14.

"When the little men in cheap suits with tobacco stains on their teeth do it in hallways, it is called hustling. When the men in tailored pinstripes with neat haircuts do it in prestigious law firms, it is called advocacy. In both cases, lawyers offer their connections to get a matter resolved to their client's benefit," writes James Tuohy in Chicago Lawyer (October 1987). "One of the undoubted leaders in the world of selling influence is Dan K. Webb, connected attorney, public-spirited citizen, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and, perhaps most important, friend of the governor, James R. Thompson. Webb pops up all over. Former U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Foran's daughter wanted a new judge when her child custody battle seemed to be going against her. Webb suddenly appeared as an expert in divorce recusal motions, even though he had never handled a divorce recusal motion before. Commonwealth Edison Company wanted a rate increase and needed state approval to get it. Webb was the company's man to petition the state. Webb could have a sign on his door: Influence for Sale."

The Illinois Democratic party will soon issue its own credit card, according to the Organizer (Summer 1987)--but through what bank? It seems that only "banks in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Wisconsin are now ready to seriously negotiate. . . . No Illinois bank is interested in issuing a credit card at a rate of 13.5% or lower."

Is your branch library a hotbed of creeping socialism? It is, according to William B. Irvine (writing for Chicago's Heartland Institute), if it's renting videotapes. "America's video store industry is slowly but surely being socialized, as the public sector takes over a service that is provided more than adequately by the private sector. . . . The growing willingness of public libraries to lend movies will likely stunt the growth of the video store industry. Indeed, I would not be surprised if in a decade video stores were as rare as private book-lending libraries are today." The Chicago Public Library now offers more than 2,000 video titles for only a "nominal" fee at eight locations (including the Cultural Center at Randolph and Michigan), with two more branches (Bridgeport and Pilsen) soon to start.

"A national, and probably worldwide, shortage of medical gloves is developing," Michael Reese Hospital told its staff this summer. Why? AIDS. Later on, the hospital advised its staff to use gloves on all patients "when there is potential for exposure to blood or bodily fluids." The risk of getting AIDS from them is "extremely low, [but] it is not zero."

The guv's revenge. Governor James Thompson went out on a political limb to support Commonwealth Edison's rate-freeze-and-rate-hike proposal. The Citizens Utility Board and other consumer groups sawed the limb off behind him when they persuaded the Illinois Commerce Commission to trash the plan. Thompson may not be able to squeeze BPI or the Labor Coalition on Public Utilities, but he did take the chance to veto a bill giving CUB a fund-raising mechanism to replace its former utility-bill enclosures. You can still join CUB ($5/year) by calling 263-4282.

"Lost in the midst of antiquity, even historians do not know if polo originated in Persia, China or India" (River North News, October 19, 1987). We hope they find their way out.

Do the babies care who the mayor is? In 1983, Harold Washington made it one of his top priorities as mayor to reduce Chicago's "intolerable" infant mortality rate, writes Victor Crown in the Chicago Reporter (October 1987). "Since his election, however, the black infant mortality rate has increased: in 1983 the city's overall infant mortality rate was 16.4 deaths per thousand; in 1987 it is 16.5, the second highest of the 10 most populous cities [Detroit is worst]. The black rate was 21.5 per thousand in 1984 and is currently 23.0 per thousand, according to the Department of Health (DOH)." Among the top ten cities, Chicago has moved from third to first in black infant mortality during Washington's term. Administration sources blame inadequate state and federal funds; the state in turn says the city hasn't spent enough of its money on nurses' visits to mothers at risk. The city does have 63 public health field nurses now, compared to a dismal 36 at the end of Byrne's tenure--but in 1960 there were 109, and even today Los Angeles has 283.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Carl Kock.

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