The Silent Majority; Mini Meigs | Essay | Chicago Reader

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The Silent Majority; Mini Meigs

Supporters of the smoking ban need Daley's endorsement, but nobody wants to ask him for it.

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The Silent Majority

It's been two months since the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and other public-health activists launched their Smoke-Free Chicago campaign. They've held rallies, bought radio commercials, and testified at the City Council hearing held on July 12. But some of them are getting frustrated. "We're no further along than we were before we started," says one member of the coalition. "We can't be so passive with Daley."

Mayor Daley isn't in favor of the ban--if he were it would have been adopted years ago. Pressed by reporters, he usually mumbles something about a ban being bad for bar business, even though he often comes down hard on bars. But he's made no formal public statement on the issue. He didn't attend the City Council hearing--where former Bears coach Mike Ditka offered some antiban bombast--and he didn't send any of his aides or department heads to testify. I've called his press office several times to ask about his position, and no one's returned the calls.

Some aldermen tell me the mayor may be open to a limited ban--say, a ban on smoking in restaurants before 9 PM. The coalition members say they couldn't endorse that. "How can you compromise on public health?" says Janet Williams, who's on the steering committee of the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco. "It's OK to give people cancer after nine?"

But the ban's supporters haven't figured out how to persuade Daley to take their side. "You don't want to publicly attack him," says one strategist, "because then it gets personal and he could hold a grudge." Yet they don't want to give him a pass. "At some point you have to hold people accountable," says another ban supporter.

For the moment they're pretending they don't know where he stands. "As you know," says Carolyn Grisko, a spokesman for the coalition, "the mayor has not really indicated one way or another his position on this ordinance." When I asked why she didn't just ask him, she suggested I talk to Eric Adelstein, a political consultant working with the coalition.

Adelstein says Daley's been sort of cooperative because he hasn't come out against the ban. Some aldermen who back the ban say they haven't asked directly for his support because they're afraid they won't get it. "What if he says, 'I don't want you to introduce this ban,'" one told me. "Then what?"

They've been hoping to get other aldermen to vote for the ban regardless of what Daley thinks. "We're looking to develop a groundswell of support," says 28th Ward alderman Ed Smith, the chief sponsor of the ban. So far that groundswell hasn't appeared. I asked Smith for the names of aldermen who've told him they'll vote for the ban. "I don't want to give that out," he said.

Why not?

"'Cause we're working on the stuff, and I'd rather not say."

Eventually I got a head count from another member of the coalition. They need 26 votes, and they now have 22 aldermen who claim they'll vote for the ban even if Daley's against it. "We need 4 more votes, though we'd like to have at least 35," says the coalition member. Of course all 50 aldermen would support the ban if Daley endorsed it--well, maybe not Seventh Ward alderman William Beavers, a proud lifelong smoker.

Some coalition members are worried about what the aldermen will do if they don't get the mayor's nod. "They'll come up with some BS compromise, and they'll try to make us look like zealots 'cause we're against it," says one. "You've got to shame these people. You've got to force them--the mayor and the aldermen--to recognize that every month you delay this ban more people are exposed to smoke and more people die. If this is a matter of public health we have to take a stand."

Mini Meigs

It's hardly Watergate, but according to City Hall sources, Mayor Daley personally ordered the removal of the pedestrian crosswalk on Lake Shore Drive at Buckingham Fountain. It's such an open secret that city workers told Kathy Schubert he was responsible.

Schubert, a north-sider and member of the Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront, a group that wants cars removed from Lake Shore Drive, had long been annoyed by the crosswalk because the countdown light didn't give pedestrians enough time to cross the street. "On July 6 at about 11 in the morning I was riding my bike on the lakefront with a visitor from Holland," she says. "I wanted him to see the crosswalk's countdown lights, because I wanted him to see how the city makes you hurry across the street before the lights change. They made the pedestrian feel less important than automobile traffic."

She was surprised to see a crew of city workers removing the lights. "I asked a man working there, 'Why are you doing this?'" she says. "He said, 'Because Mayor Daley wants it that way.'"

It struck her as odd that Daley, who obviously has more pressing concerns, would bother with the crosswalk, though she adds, "If anyone could order it removed he certainly could do it. He got rid of Meigs Field, didn't he?"

Angry that the crosswalk was being removed but also curious, she called 311. An operator connected her to the Bureau of Electricity, where she wound up talking to "a guy named Vito" who told her, "I don't know anything about it." A little while later, she says, Vito called back. "He told me, 'It's the mayor's order.'"

She called 311 and asked to speak to the mayor's office. "The operator wouldn't connect me there," she says. "I said, 'I don't need to talk to the mayor, just his office.' But it didn't happen."

So she rode her bike to City Hall and walked up to the mayor's fifth-floor office, where a couple of police officers directed her to the mayor's administrative office. There an employee named Donna called an employee named Nick in the Department of Transportation. "Nick wasn't in, but Donna left him a message," says Schubert. "I later called Nick myself and left a message, but he never called back."

She decided to try the alderman. "I called 311 and asked for the alderman of the ward, and they directed me to [Second Ward alderman] Madeline Haithcock," she says. "I talked to a woman in Haithcock's office named Tanya, who was very sympathetic. She told me that she was disabled and she wouldn't want to have to walk the extra distance to the next crosswalk. But she told me that 311 had got it wrong--the crosswalk wasn't in Haithcock's ward. It was in Alderman Natarus's ward."

Burton Natarus happened to be on vacation, but one of his aides assured Schubert that the city had removed the crosswalk to improve traffic flow. "She told me the traffic engineers decided they had to take it out," she says.

Decisions to remove or add traffic signals used to be made by the city's transportation department after an investigation by a traffic engineer. I called Brian Steele, a spokes-man for the department, to see if there were any reports or studies that would have justified the crosswalk's removal. He told me that his department no longer oversaw such matters, that they were being handled instead by the Traffic Management Authority, a division of the new Office of Emergency Management and Communications. He told me to call Monique Bond, who works out of the mayor's office but acts as a spokesperson for OEMC.

Bond said Daley had nothing to do with the closing of the crosswalk, that it was at the recommendation of traffic engineers. She didn't know if they'd done a study.

Other people in City Hall tell a different story. "It came from the mayor," one alderman emphatically told me. "It was the mayor."

Mayor Daley?

"Do you know another one?"

Why?

"How should I know? I'm only an alderman--he's the mayor." The alderman speculated anyway. "I think it's because he got stuck in traffic. But don't quote me by name--please!"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/A. Jackson.

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