At an August 23 community meeting, Chicago Park District officials told residents that there was nothing they could do do stop the private Latin School from having exclusive prime-time use of a soccer field in Lincoln Park on public land. The Park District board had approved the contract — it was a done deal.
But Marty Oberman, a former 43rd Ward alderman who opposes the Latin soccer field, has been around long enough to know that in Chicago there’s no such thing as a done deal — provided Mayor Daley’s against it. It’s a lesson he learned back in 1975, when he was a rookie alderman dealing with Mayor Richard J. Daley.
The issue then was a series of parking meters the Park District decided to install, without community notice, along Stockton Drive near the Lincoln Park Zoo (not far, coincidentally, from where Latin intends to build its soccer field).
“The community was outraged, if for no other reason than there were no public hearings,” Oberman recalls. Oberman says he helped organize an energetic campaign in which residents sent dozens of letters to Mayor Daley, asking him to reconsider the meters.
Several days passed and Oberman never heard from the mayor. And then, just minutes before the City Council met to, among other things, vote to approve the parking meters, Oberman says he was summoned to the fifth floor. “I was sitting in the council chambers, waiting for the meeting to start when I got word — the mayor wants to see you in his office,” says Oberman. “I got ushered into Daley’s office and he says, ‘You wanted to see me?’ I said, ‘Mr. Mayor, it’s not good policy — my constituents are furious.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you defer and publish?’ I said, ‘Mr. Mayor, that will only delay the vote for another week.’ He said, ‘Defer and publish.'”
Oberman says he returned to the council feeling baffled. “I said to [fellow alderman] Jeremiah Joyce, ‘I have no idea what just happened.’ And Joyce said, ‘You won. Do what he tells you. Defer and publish and it will all be over.’ And that’s just what happened. I made a motion to defer and publish. It got seconded, and that’s the last we heard of the parking meters.”
Later, he says, the full story came out: “The Lincoln Park Zoo wanted the parking meters and they had gone to [former park superintendent] Ed Kelly, and he basically OK’d it without asking me either because he didn’t think he had to or because he didn’t want to. The point is that it was done deal until Mayor Daley called it off.”
Oberman understands that there are some differences between the parking meters and the soccer field. For one thing the Park District already approved the soccer field. But he says his tale has a lesson for current Lincoln Park residents: no deal’s done until the mayor weighs in. “If Mayor Richard J. Daley can get a powerful institution like the Lincoln Park Zoo to back off, don’t you think his son can do the same with the Latin School? I think so.”