When school groups visit City Council meetings, they frequently hear two things. First, the group’s local alderman introduces them, and the council gives them a perfunctory round of applause. Then, after some indiscreet alderman has said something nasty about another alderman or the mayor, a third alderman will jump up and say the council is setting a bad example for the school group.
Last week was different. The school group was an estimated 500 pissed-off students and professors from the City Colleges of Chicago, there to oppose the reappointment of Republican businessman Ronald Gidwitz as City Colleges chairman. He’s known for slashing classes and jobs.
Gidwitz is hated with the kind of fervor our ancestors reserved for accused witches. But he’s solidly backed by Mayor Daley, so this school group didn’t get any applause. Instead, they made their own sound effects by heckling all pro-Gidwitz speeches. And since Gidwitz won 34-14, that covered a good deal of the two-hour debate.
“This is not the classroom. We are in the City Council, please…. We are not, not in a classroom,” Mayor Daley scolded the school group after a particularly noisy round of boos during Alderman Edward Burke’s speech. And again, later: “Let’s have some respect, we’re not in your classrooms.” Daley apparently imagines a typical City College class is slightly louder than soccer hooligans in a mosh pit.
Burke made his own crack at the school group after finding a way, unlikely as it may sound, to compare Gidwitz to a quote by the Greek historian Thucydides. “I hope some of the professors here would appreciate that reference,” Burke smirked. The ungrateful professors groaned loudly.
But it was Alderman Burton Natarus who made the school group roar with the most refreshingly candid pro-Gidwitz argument. “Why am I for him? Because I know him; he happens to be my neighbor!” he trumpeted above the crowd’s jeers and Daley’s chuckles. “That’s right! That is absolutely right! You’re absolutely correct! You’re absolutely correct! I, I am fighting for the appointment of my neighbor!”
“I think what’s bothering the people in the back is Ron Gidwitz is starting to tighten the screw!” Natarus went on triumphantly. “Ron Gidwitz is starting to get tough over there! Ron Gidwitz is asking the business aspects of the [City Colleges board] to start toeing the mark!”
“Wish he’d do that with the Board of Education, hunh,” muttered Daley.
“Mr. Mayor, this is an outstanding appointment,” Natarus finished. “And you’re absolutely correct, I am going to support my neighbor!” The school group howled.
“City of brotherly love,” Daley mumbled sarcastically.
Later, Natarus created some confusion while introducing a parking permit proposal for a pickup truck on West Polk Street. “Madam President, it’s not my truck,” Natarus said jokingly to Alderman Lorraine Dixon, presiding for Daley. But Dixon misheard and thought the truck did belong to Natarus, resulting in a brief “Who’s on first” routine.
“No no, it’s not my truck,” said an exasperated Natarus finally.
“It’s his neighbor’s truck!” chorused several aldermen.
Daley, who seems to have a hard time fitting City Council meetings into his schedule, stayed a mere half hour. This resulted in some musical chairs at the mayoral podium, as aldermen took turns presiding for him. At one point, Burke made a motion so Alderman Berny Stone could replace Dixon, who is president pro tem.
“Your honor, I would like at this time to move that Alderman Stone act as temporary chairman to relieve the president pro tem so the president pro tem can relieve herself,” Burke deadpanned.