Credit: Andrea Bauer

Few Chicagoans know as much about local government as Lyle Benedict. The 57-year-old can tell you when the City Council slimmed down from 70 aldermen to 50 (1923). He knows the role of the vice mayor (“To wait for the mayor to die”). He can even explain the property tax multiplier. For 31 years, Benedict has fielded questions about the workings and history of Chicago government, first for the municipal reference library on the tenth floor of City Hall, then, after the city shut down that operation in 1993, at the Harold Washington Library Center. Benedict and a couple of other municipal reference librarians handle questions on the fifth floor and by phone (312-747-4526) and e-mail. Patrons often are looking for city jobs and want to research the budgets and mandates of certain city departments. Or they want to learn how to get on the ballot for alderman. Or they’re writing a paper on the history of Navy Pier, the Dan Ryan, or the el. Benedict knows where to find the answers—which book or clip file or database. Over the years, he has learned that city government is “large and complicated, but there are a lot of talented people working for it.” He thinks corruption isn’t as common here as it once was (he flunked his first driving test in 1985, he says, for failure to bribe). And he still enjoys his job. “People tend to think you’re doing something useful for them, and to be thankful,” he says. What he likes most is the detective work. “If I can find something that I don’t know, that’s even more exciting,” he says. After three decades, how often does that happen? “Every day.”