Monday, January 23, 2012

Oh, to have those fighting independents back

Posted By on 01.23.12 at 08:00 AM

I miss the old days, when a small, gallant band of Chicago aldermen put up a fight against their mayor. They didn't get anything done, either, but it was much more entertaining.

Take, for example, the city council meeting of April 6, 1973. "Squabbles disrupt Council," the front-page headline screamed in the Tribune the next day. "Daley, foes swap barbs."

That Daley, of course, was Richard J. Daley, Richard M.'s father. Like the son, old-man Daley always got his way—but unlike the son, or his son's successor, he often had to shout down a half-dozen independents. Or cut off their mikes.

The Trib account of this particular rhubarb begins by noting that "upwards of 20 per cent" of the council was under grand jury investigation, and two aldermen had already been indicted. (None of the independents were under investigation; one of the two indicted was my alderman, Joseph Potempa of the 23rd Ward, who later was convicted of extortion.)

Imagine any of the following happening at a city council meeting today.

The meeting began innocuously, with two of the independents, Leon Despres of the 5th Ward and Bill Singer of the 43rd, moving to make minor changes in the council journal regarding the previous meeting. When this proposal failed "they persisted in their protests and spectators in the gallery booed and cheered," the Trib story said.

"Take it easy, Leon," Daley told Despres. "The chair won't tolerate any outbursts from you or from the galleries. This is a democratic body. There are young people here. People have a right to disagree, yes, but this doesn't mean all action of government is bad."

"I resent your insults," Despres responded. "Get off the chair and argue from the floor if you want to. You've already done enough to disgrace the City Council."

"You're not going to run the City Council," Daley shouted back.

The mayor's floor leader, 31st Ward alderman Thomas Keane (who a year later would be convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy), then charged that the boo-birds in the gallery were an organized "publicity play for national television."

Another of the independents, Seymour Simon of the 40th Ward (who'd later serve with distinction on the Illinois Supreme Court), told Keane "I object to chastisement of the gallery."

Daley ordered the sergeant-at-arms to force Simon into his seat, but Simon sat down on his own.

Then Dick Simpson, independent from the 44th Ward (now head of the political science department at University of Illinois at Chicago), proposed a resolution praising the outgoing city controller. Daley told Simpson he was out or order.

"Put me in a chair or in jail, but I have a right to be heard," Simpson hollered.

Daley suggested that Simpson move to suspend the rules. Simpson declined to make the motion, knowing full well what the result would be. So Daley made the motion for him. It lost, 34-7, but Simpson kept shouting.

Daley ordered Simpson into his seat. Simpson refused. The sergeant-at-arms, aided this time by a police officer, tried to pull Simpson into his chair, but Simpson resisted. "The two never did get Simpson down," the Trib reported, "but when the council turned to another matter he finally sat down."

Midway through the proceedings, Daley split for the Cubs game. So he missed the resolution made by another of his loyalists, 10th Ward alderman Ed Vrdolyak (who'd later be convicted of fraud for certain post-aldermanic activities). Fast Eddie proposed that the sergeant of arms and the police officer who'd failed to wrestle Simpson into his chair certify before the next council meeting that they'd completed courses in jujitsu. The resolution was sent to the committee on committees and rules.

Alas, no need for jujitsu today.

Read more from Alderman Week:

"My mixed luck with aldermen," by Steve Bogira

"Alderman Ed Burke acknowledges the existence of a mere mortal," by Mick Dumke

"Chicago's 50 wards—the jigsaw version," by Ben Joravsky

"Good old Joe," by Kate Schmidt

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