When the Wall Street Journal in 1984 called Chicago “Beirut on the Lake,” the Reader‘s Gary Rivlin ran with the metaphor and called Alderman Richard Mell and his 28 white allies on the City Council the “radical Shiites of the city’s northwest and southwest sectors.”

Nothing was more important to them than sabotaging the administration of the new black mayor, Harold Washington. If that meant bringing the city down around them, so be it. In this 1985 Reader article, Mell explained to Rivlin why his council faction—the “Vrdolyak 29″—opposed a $125 million bond issue to patch up crumbling streets and sidewalks. The work needed to be done, and all 50 wards would benefit—nobody denied that. The problem was that Washington could also benefit—in 1987, when he ran for reelection. The improvements might help persuade a few white voters that Washington wasn’t so bad after all.

Mell’s own 33rd Ward was a case in point—it really needed the work done, he allowed. Yet Mell supposed that in the end he’d vote against the bond issue. “To keep a caucus of people together . . . sometimes you have to compromise your own position. In fact, to keep people together on major issues, you have to vote for things you’re not happy with,” he told Rivlin. “I will sacrifice a vote that probably won’t be popular in my community for the good of the coalition.”