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Your Tax Dollars At Work

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Why can't Mayor Daley just be nice to Alderman

Helen Shiller?

True, she never votes for his budget, and she didn't make an exception at last week's City Council meeting. But Alderman Robert Shaw didn't vote for Daley's 1998 budget either. He told everyone he was protesting the mayor's refusal to reinstate council oversight on city contracts, and Daley whooped it up with Shaw outside the council chambers before the meeting anyway.

Yet Daley can't even accept gracious political pleasantries from Shiller. Last week she tried thanking him for new low-income senior-citizen housing to be built in her ward using a $3.5 million loan from the city housing department.

"Thank you, Mr. Mayor," said Shiller, sounding a bit nervous, perhaps because she so rarely puts those words together in the same sentence. "I just actually wanted to just make a note that it isn't often that we get to work collectively on something that we both support--"

"Well we didn't," Daley grumbled.

"--and um, and uh," continued Shiller, not quite hearing him, "I wanted to actually acknowledge--"

"We didn't. We did it," Daley repeated, clearly not including Shiller in that last "we."

"Pardon?" asked Shiller.

"We did it," said Daley again.

"That's right," Shiller smiled, not getting it, "and I wanted to acknowledge that and let you know that it was truly a pleasure to be able to get through this process--"

"Well it makes my day," Daley almost sneered.

"Well it makes my year! Thank you!" bubbled Shiller.

"Good luck," said Daley, whatever that meant. "Well, this was done on behalf of the people. We made a commitment prior to Alderman Shiller knew about it, so, I just want to tell you that. At a community meeting with Alderman [Bernard] Hansen, he was at the community meeting, we made a guarantee that we would find a site for them within the city of Chicago. I want to thank Alderman Hansen for really providing the energy and support. Thank you."

Ouch. Every mother in the audience must have wanted to march up and hiss in his ear, "Be nice! Be nice!" And someone should have, because he was just as nasty when Shiller rose to speak during the budget debate.

"Could you uh, close, uh, call the body to order?" Shiller asked. The aldermen were milling about and babbling.

"Order, please," said Daley almost inaudibly, then sniffed loudly. He didn't bother banging his gavel. The milling and babbling continued.

Shiller looked confused. "Could you do it so the members of the body hear you, Mr. President?" she asked.

"I think so. They have pretty good ears," said Daley. He still didn't bang his gavel, and the milling and babbling went on.

Shiller started anyway. She said she'd hoped to learn several things from the budget process, such as the effects of the city's privatization efforts and increasing TIFs. She complained about some 40 questions that city departments had failed to answer for her--a better record than past years, but she still had to file a Freedom of Information request for some information.

"I understand," said Shiller, "that when asked about responding to my questions, the mayor said last week, 'It doesn't matter what we give her, she'll never vote for my budget.' Mr. Mayor, the budget is not another bone to be thrown for all the aldermen to fight over and then, and then heel to the master to show their undying loyalty."

The aldermen kept milling and babbling. No one seemed to notice that Shiller had called them a pack of dogs. The budget passed, 45-2.

At least Daley stayed in the chamber during Shiller's speech, though. Last year he skipped the budget debate to go eat Alderman Eugene Schulter's birthday cake.

--Cate Plys

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