Ald. Juan Soliz’s eyes were clouded, his lower lip drooped. It was past midnight and he was tired, slumped across his City Council desk.
Not more than five feet from him, Alderman Bill Henry, the 24th Ward’s tough talker, bulged with a bulletproof vest under his gray suit. His finger pointed harshly at Dorothy Tillman, whose chin thrust out in defiance. Usually these two aldermen were allies, but not tonight. Danny Davis and Ray Figueroa wrapped Henry in their arms, keeping him from busting Tillman’s lip.
“Dorothy’s going to kill us; she really is,” confided one of the Latino aldermen about the feisty Third Ward rep. “She can fracture this thing, just like that.” The alderman snapped his fingers.
At that moment, Bobby Rush, the former Black Panther, wagged his finger at portly Fred Roti. “You’re going to destroy the fucking party, man,” Rush said.
Roti, who’s white, walked away. “Hopefully, they’ll have a black mayor for the people of Chicago tonight,” he said dramatically to the press box. The reporters openly laughed.
Figueroa, who had earlier leaped emotionally out of his seat, shook his head in disgust.
“You get too excited,” Roti calmly told him. “You Latins, you just get too excited.”
Soliz wasn’t excited at all; he was bored. He sighed, got up, and stepped into the anteroom behind the council chambers. The selection of an acting mayor had stalled.
“It might not be so bad with Sawyer,” said an aide to an Hispanic alderman. “Some of the jerks, like [Ernest] Barefield will be out. He hates Latinos. He gave us nothing, jobwise.”
In the anteroom, television crews splayed their equipment all over the floor as aides and reporters hustled about. In a minute, Tillman came bursting through the chamber doors, leading a hand-holding conga line of Edwin Eisendrath followed by Helen Shiller.
“Don’t tell; don’t tell,” ordered Tillman.
“I won’t tell; I won’t tell,” Eisendrath responded.
“I won’t if you won’t,” added Shiller, wearing a “No Deals” button. They disappeared through another door, a pack of reporters on their tail.
“I can’t believe this,” said Richard Mell upon hearing that Eugene Sawyer was reconsidering his bid. Already Sawyer had entered the council floor and collapsed, leaving Mell and his gang of white ethnic aldermen in a momentary lurch. “He just buckled; he saw all those assholes and he just buckled. He’s got it and he won’t take it. God, I’d do anything–anything.”
“I think what’s happening,” offered the southwest side’s Michael Sheahan, “is that he’s such a nice guy, he wants everybody to like him.”
“I know that if I had 34 votes, I’d take it right now,” said William Krystyniak, from the ward next to Sheahan’s. “I wouldn’t worry about the 4,000 guys outside.”
Soliz stepped over a microphone boom to the window and peeked outside, trying to see the thousands who had gathered to protest the proceedings.
Amid the manic activity in the anteroom, Jesus Garcia and Luis Gutierrez were surprisingly calm. Gutierrez, particularly relaxed, was holding court before a gaggle of attractive Hispanic women.
“We said no deals,” Garcia explained, “so there’s nothing for us to talk about.”
Among other things they said a white Sawyer ally had offered them were the right to pick Sawyer’s chief of staff and lots of Park District jobs for Latinos.
Soliz, as usual a distance away from the other Latinos, leaned against a wall. It had been a nonstop rollercoaster since the death of Mayor Harold Washington. Soliz had taken the unusual step of publicly joining a Latino bloc, in return for a promise of neutrality. But as time ticked on, it became clear that Figueroa, Garcia, and Gutierrez were figured into Tim Evans’s camp. So Soliz was there too, by default.
“I’m tight, I’m tight,” he responded as reporters asked him about his loyalty. “For right now.”
“What else can he do?” said a white ethnic alderman. “Soliz’s credibility is shot to shit. He was an independent, then he was with Vrdolyak, then he was an independent again. He’s taken money from everybody. He doesn’t know what the fuck to do now, so he figures he’ll stick with his own people. It’s a sinking ship, but as much as he hates those guys, can you blame him? I mean, who would ever trust him?”
Tired and thirsty, Roti was now roaming the anteroom for a cup. When he finally got a Budget Committee employee to loan him his, he had second thoughts. “You don’t have AIDS, do you?” the alderman asked. The aide blanched.
Davis, earlier mentioned as a possible candidate himself, paced. “I’m disgusted,” he said. “Ninety-seven percent of what’s been said here today are lies.”
“Where is he?” asked Jesse Evans, meaning Sawyer.
“He’s with his minister, praying for strength,” Michael Sheahan said piously.
“You mean praying for balls,” corrected an aide to Bill Henry.
“Come on, this is more than a vote in the City Council,” said Danny Davis. “It’s more than replacing a mayor. Harold Washington was a folk hero. People will write songs about him like they did John Henry and Paul Bunyan.”
In the council chambers, spectators were keeping their spirits high by cheerleading: “We don’t want no phony fix; we just want the 26!” Soon they were taunting everybody with shouts of “Jane Byrne for city clerk! Jane Byrne for city clerk!”
By 4 AM, the time the vote came installing Sawyer as mayor, almost all the protesters had abandoned the streets and the ones in the council chambers were subdued. There was a sprinkle of boos, and then the only sounds accompanying Mayor Sawyer’s first speech were feet shuffling out and cameras whirling.
“Don’t talk to me about the Hispanics,” said a white alderman after the council finally adjourned. “They had their chance. They blew it for Evans and they blew it with us.”
Getting a drink of water near his aldermanic office, Garcia was still optimistic. “The energy between us is great,” he said. “We made no deals; we stayed honorable. We’re going to stick together, you’ll see.” He put his coat on and wiped his chin. “We’re going to do some fund-raising together; we’re going to work together,” he continued. “We’re going to be the conscience of the City Council.”
But back in the anteroom, Soliz, dark rings under his eyes, was much more cautious. “We owe it to our community to sit down with Sawyer and present our agenda and allow him to respond to it,” he explained. “Let’s face it, we’re not going to be among the mayor’s favorite aldermen. We didn’t give him support at a critical time. But I’m going to stick with the other Latino aldermen–for now.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.