Alderman Lyle Tells Her Constituents So Long—and, to Some, Good Riddance | Bleader

Friday, April 15, 2011

Alderman Lyle Tells Her Constituents So Long—and, to Some, Good Riddance

Posted By on 04.15.11 at 06:26 PM

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To no one's surprise, Alderman Freddrenna Lyle wasn’t exactly apologetic or soft-spoken during her last public ward meeting Thursday night. She's never been one to bite her tongue.

“Some of you I’m going to miss and some of you I’m not going to miss,” the Sixth Ward alderman told about 60 constituents at a church in Englewood. “Democracy gives people the right to make mistakes, and I think that's what happened here.”

Lyle has been in office since 1998 but earlier this month lost her bid for a fourth full term. Her mostly middle-class ward has struggled with crime, an aging population, and declining business districts, and during the winter election season Lyle’s opponents slammed her for not doing enough to fix things.

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In the opening round of balloting in February, Lyle got 45 percent of the vote, good enough for first but not for the straight majority needed to win. The second-place finisher had a name familiar to many longtime residents wishing for a return to happier days—Roderick Sawyer, an attorney and former Lyle ally whose father, Eugene Sawyer, was the ward’s alderman before ascending to the mayor’s office in 1987. Promising to improve city services and get people working together again, Sawyer edged out Lyle in the April 5 runoff by 104 votes, or about 1 percent of the 10,112 cast.

In a City Council full of consistent pushovers and sometime independents, Lyle has been colorful, sharp, and unpredictable. A few years ago when Mayor Daley started framing Walmart’s entry into the city as a civil rights issue, promising groceries and jobs in underserved areas, Lyle questioned the fairness of anyone willing to let the retailer set up shop in the black community without guarantees of higher wages and benefits. And every year at budget time she was merciless on city officials who couldn’t possibly be fast or thorough enough in answering her questions about the city’s troubled minority contracting program.

On the other hand, though the Sixth Ward has a long history of independence, she occasionally disappointed some of the City Council’s progressive-minded aldermen by not just backing Mayor Daley’s plans—for the parking meters, TIF districts, Olympics, and annual budgets—but attacking naysayers for their inability to see the light that was so bright in her eyes. Yet she could also be refreshingly candid about why she was going with the flow. Last spring, as the mayor pushed a new gun ordinance through the council, Lyle admitted it did little to address the roots of violence. She supported it, though, because her ward was up in arms about an outbreak of shootings and she didn't think it would hurt.

Lyle has held monthly public gatherings since taking office, but her closing one felt less like a town hall meeting than a combination clearance sale, retirement party, and middle finger to anyone who didn’t like it.

Attendees were greeted at the door with an offer of party favors. “Umbrella or t-shirt?” asked the woman behind the front table. Those who declined were given a bag of leftover freebies anyway—not just a Census 2010 umbrella and Sixth Ward tee, but “Re-Elect Freddrenna M. Lyle” nail files, pens, and cardboard fans.

A succession of speakers, including police commanders, city sanitation officials, business leaders, and community activists, talked briefly about issues in the ward—and at length about how much Lyle had done and how much she would be missed. Flowers, cake, and gifts were presented.

Lyle was deeply moved and kept dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. She thanked everyone for the support and for their work in the ward over the years. Then she got in a few more digs at her foes and critics.

“Over the last five or six months, a lot of people said a lot of things, including that I wasn’t attentive to our businesses,” she said. “It was a lie, like so many other lies that were said. Freddrenna Lyle didn’t cause the recession.”

She touted some of her accomplishments, including efforts to improve the high schools in the ward. “You need long-term solutions to long-term problems,” she said. “Those of you who are happy you got your guy in there now, don’t expect him to do this stuff tomorrow. It takes time.”

The alderman said she wasn’t yet sure what she would be doing next—perhaps some lobbying, perhaps some ward remap work for the council’s black caucus, perhaps a return to practicing law full time—but she assured the room that she had no plans to move out of the community. “I will be here because, like you, I can’t sell.”

Lyle also offered some parting political advice. “I beg you to call your new alderman and bug the hell out of him,” she said. “Keep his feet to the fire like you did to me and my staff the last 13 years.”

This inspired a mix of applause, amens, and gasps in the audience. As some residents filed out of the church shaking their heads, others lined up to have pictures taken with the alderman. She was smiling.

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