Aldermen nearly tripped over each other at last week’s City Council meeting to praise a recently deceased former colleague who was convicted in federal court of mail fraud and conspiracy.
In death, former alderman Thomas Keane dominated the council as he had in life, as the Chicago politician whose power was topped only by the original Mayor Daley. The aldermen offered emotional paeans to Keane, often sounding like kidnap victims suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
Alderman John Buchanan fondly recalled his first election in 1963. “The first thing I had to do was meet with Thomas Keane. And he said, ‘I wanna know all about ya.’ So I proceeded to give him background, and he said, ‘The only reason I’ll even consider liking you is that your wife is Luxembourger. Other than that I don’t find anything about you that I like.'” Keane had family from Luxembourg.
Buchanan also recounted the consequences for the smallest missteps. “If you weren’t in your seat at roll call, you know, you forget the traffic signs, you forget the zoning, you forget all you need for sometimes periods of three months,” he said, adding later, “This was a great man. A real great man.”
Alderman Berny Stone described Keane’s legendary financial skills: “I recall sitting in this seat one day when we were considering a budget after Tom had left the body, and the mayor at that time had built into the budget a surplus. And I sat here and I said, ‘You can’t do that. We have to have a balanced budget.’ Just then Tom Keane walked by, and I said, ‘Tom, take a look at this.’ He says, ‘That’s not the way to do it. Tell ’em you’re gonna build a bridge and then you don’t build it. That’s how you cover an open item like that.'”
Freshman alderman Vilma Colom offered the oddest tribute. Colom ran as a Republican for city clerk in 1991 and told the Tribune’s John Kass, “I became a Republican because I realized the Democrats had manipulated minorities by serving a few chiefs while pretending to serve the poor, which they do not.” Now she’s a Democrat and the protege of Alderman Dick Mell, so she struggled to find something nice to say about one of the biggest chiefs.
Colom addressed Keane’s family in the audience directly, recalling that she met Keane as a girl of 15 through her father. “And as a young girl you always wanna do, you wanna go out of the norm and do things that you’re not supposed to do and raise questions about why certain things weren’t being done,” she said. “And I was told…that you need to be careful what you say because Mr. Keane runs whatever he wants to run in this ward. If you want to share your thoughts, you can just give ideas of your concerns….So everybody knew that, whatever took place in the ward, he knew about it or he was part of it.”
Keane’s family can be excused if they looked puzzled.