Your Tax Dollars at Work/ October 1, 1997 | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Your Tax Dollars at Work/ October 1, 1997 

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When an alderman leaves the Chicago City Council, or this life, the other aldermen traditionally pop up like giant Weebils to hail their departing colleague. Strangely, the council skipped fond farewell speeches last week for Alderman Jesse Evans, who was attending his final meeting.

Evans was convicted in June for bribe taking, extortion, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, and using aldermanic expense funds to fix and insure his wife's cars. He's been attending meetings anyway, stubbornly clinging to a state law that allows him to continue serving--and collecting his paycheck--until his sentencing, set for October 16.

A rap sheet hasn't stopped the speeches before. In the past year, the council has lovingly eulogized former alderman Thomas Keane, convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy, and former Illinois state treasurer Jerry Cosentino, convicted of bank fraud for a multimillion-dollar check-kiting scheme. But their crimes were more distant. Apparently convictions, like wine, must age a while before they're acceptable.

Not that Evans was ostracized during last week's meeting, at least by the standards of common folk. Many aldermen showed no outward qualms about his presence on the council floor, even though the entire city had seen Evans taking bribes in FBI videotapes shown on the nightly news.

Alderman Thomas Allen passed by Evans's seat and stopped to shake hands. Alderman Ed Smith sought Evans out for a little conference and shared a good laugh with him later. Alderman Ricardo Mu–oz is admittedly stuck with a seat assignment right next to Evans, but didn't appear pained to share amiable chats with him. Aldermen Arenda Troutman, Percy Giles, and Michael Zalewski also bantered with Evans.

Perhaps the aldermen decided it would be unseemly to honor Evans on the same day they offered eulogies to Mother Teresa.

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The name Jane Byrne seems to have a hex on it, the kind where something horrible happens to anyone who says it aloud.

Whenever an alderman mentions Byrne--always disparagingly, of course--she is referred to with some variation of the phrase "a former mayor." Most aldermen do linguistic gymnastics just to avoid using a female pronoun.

Alderman Edward Burke continued that custom last week when he praised Mayor Daley's newly appointed fire commissioner, Edward P. Altman, a 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department. Burke said he was proud of Altman's history with the department.

"I'm reminded, your honor, of what can happen in Chicago when a mayor selects someone from out of town to be the fire commissioner," said Burke. "And your honor, it happened not too many years ago in the early 1980s, when believe it or not the mayor of Chicago at that time selected someone from California to be the fire commissioner. And I recall one particular morning when an unusual character by the name of Spiderman was attempting to scale the Hancock building. And lo and behold the fire commissioner at the time, who of course being from California wasn't really familiar with unique experiences like Spiderman in Chicago scaling the Hancock building, ordered the engine to hook up at the fire hydrant and wash him off the side of the Hancock building with a fire hose." Burke paused briefly for laughter. "Well fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and that particular fire commissioner was persuaded not to blow Spiderman off the side of the Hancock building. But that's what happens, your honor, ladies and gentlemen, when someone who doesn't come up through the ranks is selected to be head of a city department."

--Cate Plys

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