You back my scratch, I’ll back yours
When the City Council voted itself a 13 percent pay raise last week, aldermen feared two things. First, voters marching through the streets with aldermanic heads on pikes. And second, colleagues who’d vote no for political advantage and collect the ten grand anyway.
So their ordinance included a clause allowing anyone who doesn’t want the money to sign a waiver in the City Clerk’s office. Mayor Daley, whose salary rose from $170,000 to $192,100, announced the final vote this way: “Thirty-six yeas, ten nays. The clerk be notified the ten will be immediately down there, and the other ones we’ll find in the corridors and the lobbies.”
But nothing is ever that simple at City Hall. The chart below shows the range of responses when aldermen decided whether to vote for the raise and whether to take it.–Cate Plys
Vote Taking the Money? Speech Translation
“I stand with the voters who told me and called me to vote no. I have nothing else but the voters of the 15th Ward and the taxpayers there…and I have to do what they tell me to do, so for that reason I must vote no.”
Reelection is more important than a raise when you’re facing federal corruption charges in the Silver Shovel investigation. Prosecutors charge that Jones took $7,000 to help start a rock-crushing operation in the 15th Ward. If true, that would be just $3,000 less than the raise he passed up. As soon as Jones finished speaking, Daley barked: “So you don’t take the pay raise. Make sure you don’t take the pay raise.”
“Quite frankly, I really don’t care whether we get a raise or not–I’m gonna be one of those who will sign the pledge not to take the increase….I’m in a position where I can do it….I signed the ordinance in due consideration for the rest of the members of the City Council who aren’t in my position. I think all of you deserve a raise.”
By voting yes while taking a pass on the raise, Natarus stayed in the good graces of both his colleagues and his constituents. Besides, he’s a lawyer–he doesn’t need the $10,000. He does, however, wish the council would vote for an increase in the aldermanic expense account. In the same speech he detailed every item he purchases for his City Hall and ward offices: “If you have a bathroom, for example, in your ward office, you gotta buy soap at the Jewel, y’know! And the women, if you have women in the office, they’ve gotta have special things that you have to provide for them!”
“I am on record because when I first heard of the raise it was for $20,000, and I am on record voting against it, and my mother always taught me your word is your bond. Since I am on public record for voting against it, I am going to vote against it. But I’d like to commend my colleagues for having the foresight, because thinking of working for eight years straight without a raise was a scary thought, so thank you for taking the initiative.”
Most of Coleman’s colleagues probably didn’t understand that she was actually admitting she’d vote no and take the money anyway–and thanking them for doing the political dirty work. Alderman Bernard Stone, who spoke next, did understand. He pointed out to her that she could do as he was planning–vote yes and then refuse the raise. Coleman voted no anyway.
“I will not be supporting this increase….I think this administration, my colleagues, the mayor deserve this increase. However, I will be signing the waiver in hopes that the money I’m giving up can be used for a project in my ward, or for a contractual employee, or for one of the chambers [of commerce] in my community.”
Colom thinks everyone deserves a raise, but not enough to risk any votes in her upcoming reelection campaign. And she isn’t simply going to give up the money. She wants to use it either to hire an employee or to gain political points by giving it to a ward project or community group.
“Some of my media friends, they get paid more than I do, just to write gossip, right? So I’m proud, because this [raise] is really nothing. It might seem like a lot to some people.”
Ten grand probably does seem like a lot of money to most of the voters in Tillman’s ward, which includes the Robert Taylor Homes.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Virgil Jones, Burton Natarus/ Shirley Coleman/ Vilma Colom, Dorothy Tillman photos.