Mayor Daley doesn’t look very nimble. He’s what a football announcer might call “sneaky fast.” Let a sensitive, important, or just plain boring debate begin at a City Council meeting and he could…go…all…the…way!

All the way out of the council chambers, that is.

Last week’s meeting saw Daley in top form. He streaked downfield when Alderman Toni Preckwinkle tried introducing an ordinance to cut off city funding of legal expenses for proadministration aldermen–mostly white–in a lawsuit brought by opposition aldermen–mostly black–over the 1992 city ward remap. The remap passed in a citywide referendum.

The plaintiff opposition aldermen contend that the proadministration aldermen voluntarily became defendants. Alderman Edward Burke, as chairman of the Finance Committee, has approved paying legal expenses for himself and his fellow defendants but denied it for the plaintiffs. The city spent over $5 million on the defendants’ legal fees as of January 1. As for the remap itself, the opposition aldermen charge that it should have created two more black-majority wards and one more Latino ward.

Daley had just returned to the council chambers (having left for most of a debate over the practices of the Habitat Company in locating scattered-site public housing) when Preckwinkle asked the clerk to read her ordinance. The council would then vote on whether to suspend its rules so the ordinance could be debated immediately.

And he could…go…all…the…way! Daley sprinted out, and Alderman Lorraine Dixon replaced him at the podium before the clerk could finish reading Preckwinkle’s ordinance out loud.

The ordinance was notable for singling out Burke. It stated that he refused to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees because “no authority exists to pay plaintiffs suing the City….

Whereas, [Burke] and Administration aldermen were themselves plaintiffs in several prior remap and related suits…in which [Burke] personally caused the City to pay for his and their own outside attorneys fees and expenses.”

“I think this is a critical issue,” said Preckwinkle before the vote. “By the way, my first note here, which I’ll share with the chairman,” meaning Burke, “was going to be the high regard that I have for him.”

“I’ll take note of that,” Burke grinned.

The roll call was unusually lively, particularly when the clerk called on freshman alderman Walter Burnett Jr. Burnett is black and owes his election to his mentors, Daley allies Cook County Recorder of Deeds Jesse White and former Cook County Board president George Dunne. He may be finding that situation uncomfortable, since he tried abstaining. Unfortunately, the rookie alderman didn’t realize council rules don’t allow abstentions. A minor uproar ensued, with shouts of “You can’t abstain!” from both sides.

“Alderman, yeah or nay?” asked Dixon. Burnett went with nay, the proadministration vote. He didn’t sound happy.

Lastly, the clerk called for Dixon’s vote. “No,” said Dixon, a Daley ally who’s also black.

“No????” snorted an unidentified alderman.

“No,” Dixon repeated.

“Well, at least she didn’t abstain!” cracked Alderman Robert Shaw.

“She knows better!” laughed Alderman Dorothy Tillman.

Preckwinkle lost; the ordinance wasn’t considered. And Daley apparently made like Forrest Gump, running right past the goalpost and out the doors, since he never did

come back. –Cate Plys