You can always tell when something unusual is going on at the City Council. A wide network of contacts is helpful, but not strictly necessary. The most reliable indicator is the number of camera tripods in the press box.

Only a handful of television news outlets bother covering a typical council meeting. Some, like channels Two and Seven, have political reporters who come often and know the beat. But many stations can’t be bothered, or they may send someone who’s new in town. Fox News once sent a reporter who didn’t know what an alderman was and had to ask.

Last Wednesday’s meeting was very unusual indeed. The tripods surged together on the camera platform like a mob of three-legged supplicants seeking a papal blessing. Operation Silver Shovel was under way. That same day, Alderman Ambrosio Medrano would become its first target and plead guilty to accepting $31,000 in bribes from an FBI mole.

“Will you point out the crooks we want to take pictures of?” one cameraman asked his station’s reporter. “Just pick one,” shrugged the reporter.

But the only controversy that made it to the council floor involved Alderman Eugene Schulter’s amendments to the liquor license moratorium ordinance. The amendments will allow aldermen to repeal moratoriums from areas that spilled into their wards due to the recently redrawn ward boundaries.

Alderman Burton Natarus started a debate by calling the city’s liquor laws confusing. “One day there’s a moratorium, the next day there isn’t. One day it’s dry, the next day it isn’t,” he claimed.

Mayor Daley, who rarely participates in debates, shot back with an indignant speech lambasting the liquor industry and defending Winston Mardis, director of the mayor’s license commission, though Natarus hadn’t attacked him.

“That is not what I just said,” Natarus retorted. “I did not say that, I did not attack Winston Mardis. I did not attack anybody’s integrity. I’m saying to you that their liquor law is still confusing–”

“It’s not confusing to the citizens of the city of Chicago,” Daley snapped. He left the podium, and a wave of aldermen sprang up to attack the liquor industry, a group only slightly more popular with voters than snuff-movie producers.

“Point of personal privilege!” Natarus called.

“Alderman Natarus, what is your point of personal privilege?” asked Alderman Lorraine Dixon, filling in for Daley.

“My point of personal privilege is it’s very unfortunate that when somebody arises and makes a statement that the statement is twisted. Now I have good hearing, I know exactly what I said. I never said I wasn’t gonna vote for this ordinance. I’m for it. Did I say once I was against it–did I?”

“Alderman Natarus, what is your point of personal privilege?” barked Dixon. “You have spoken one time. In all fairness we need to let everyone else speak before you speak again.”

Natarus responded with a rambling speech, at one point suggesting that it would be troublesome for the city’s economic development if he put a moratorium on his own 42nd Ward, which includes the Loop and Rush Street. Dixon interrupted and asked if anyone else wanted to speak first.

“Let him finish!” yelled someone from the audience.

“Your brother is here,” quipped Alderman Terry Gabinski.

“You got one fan out there,” noted Alderman Edward Burke.

Several more antiliquor speeches later, Natarus got his chance to speak. “I think that the City Council owes me a debt of gratitude because I set off a nerve today and gave you all an opportunity to really get up there and make good press,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

–Cate Plys

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Graphic Box.