Though City Council meetings are known as the scene of unholy maneuvers and alliances, each begins with a prayer from a local minister. Usually the ministers give thanks and, in a true test of the power of prayer, ask God to guide the aldermen.

Reverend Donald H. Wheat of the west side’s Third Unitarian Church of Chicago began last week’s invocation by giving thanks for a magnificent city, lulling council members into their customary bowed-head-and-serious-expression poses. Mayor Daley and a few aldermen were listening closely enough to begin looking puzzled when Wheat continued, “Irene Cooney, my neighbor on Race Street, used to pray to thee each morning that thou would choose Chicago for the Second Coming of thy Son!”

Like the chorus in Monty Python’s “lumberjack song” sketch, more and more council members began shifting their eyes around as Wheat went on: “We fear for the hordes of delegates who will invade our city this summer–save us from their jealousy and send them back to their own cities to create and emulate what they have seen here.”

By the end, Wheat had an audience that was actually listening rather than nodding their heads and thinking about how to torpedo an enemy’s ordinance or suck up to Mayor Daley. “Speak again to these public servants the words thou spoke to Daniel of old, ‘Make no small plans,'” Wheat continued. “With this wisdom, the decisions of this council will hasten that day when this alabaster city will gleam undimmed by human tears.”

After Alderman Virginia Rugai finished introducing the third-grade class from Esmond School and the Morgan Park High School girls’ track and field team, who were all sitting in the council gallery, Alderman Robert Shaw started talking about the council chamber’s men’s washroom.

“Uh, you know, I’m reminded that, uh, there was an alderman here, Paddy Bauler, who said Chicago wasn’t ready for reform,” said Shaw. “Well I went into the washroom a few minutes ago and it’s well lighted, and I–it used to be that dungeon kind of look in the washroom. So Chicago is ready for reform, so I just wanted to take notice of that.”

“Alderman Shaw,” said Alderman Lorraine Dixon, presiding for the absent Mayor Daley, “did you see the construction on the ladies’ room when you were–”

“No, I didn’t go in the ladies’ room,” said Shaw.

The ladies’ “room” is appropriately singular, since even in 1996 with 13 female aldermen and numerous female political aides (not to mention female reporters), women are stuck with one single-occupant washroom within walking distance of the chambers.

“Maybe Chicago’s not ready for reform,” Dixon remarked drily.

Alderman Edward Burke offered an informal message of encouragement to the Bulls, urging them to clinch their fourth NBA title. He couldn’t help adding a little extra: “But I think too that Dennis Ru-, Red-, Rodman better stop pickin’ on those Polish, uh, basketball players and gettin’ ’em thrown out of games. Uh, they have to go to etiquette school and learn, uh, patience. Patience is a virtue.” –Cate Plys