By Ben Joravsky

They were halfway through the luncheon for retired Chicago public school teachers–chicken for some, fish for others–and Grace Weinstein was mildly disappointed.

Ordinarily, these are lackluster affairs, offering guests little more than a chance to catch up with old friends, hear the latest pension news, and listen to featured speakers tell them how much they respect old teachers. But last Thursday’s meeting started off as even less eventful than most. There was no new pension news, the featured speaker–Senator Richard Durbin–did not show up, and Weinstein, a retired kindergarten teacher from the north side, was beginning to think that she and her two old teaching friends (Doris and Helen) had wasted their time schlepping to the Westin Hotel. “I would have liked to have heard Senator Durbin,” said Weinstein. “They don’t even tell you where he is or why he didn’t come.”

At the podium, Jackie Mooney, the retired teachers’ liaison to the Chicago Teachers Union, was introducing some of the union leaders seated on the dais. “Jackie Mooney’s been running these meetings forever,” Weinstein explained.

The waiter brought cheesecake and coffee. Doris and Helen went to the restroom. Mooney thanked union leaders Michael Williams, Pamelyn Massarsky, Norma White, and Melvin Wilson for their years of service. What she didn’t say is that they were part of the elected CTU leadership recently ousted by the rank and file for being too compliant with the central office and too autocratic with the membership.

Mooney, an ally of the outgoing bunch, had nothing but kind words for her dais mates. “I want to thank them for all they have done,” she said.

The lights dimmed and a line of old teachers, some bent with age, one in a wheelchair, filed down the center of the room carrying votive candles and singing, “Solidarity forever. Solidarity forever. Solidarity forever. For the union makes us strong.”

Michael Williams stepped to the podium. He thanked the teachers for their song, made a crack about his own unplanned retirement, and announced that the time had come to have an election. They were going to elect a new “vice president of the union’s Retired Members Functional Group,” which is to say a new liaison to the union. It’s the position now held by Mooney.

“It’s really not that important of a position–it’s mostly ceremonial,” Weinstein explained. “You get to run these luncheons and go to CTU meetings.”

The election would be an orderly process, Williams continued. Anyone who wanted to make a nomination should step to the microphone at his right.

The first speaker nominated Mooney.

“She’ll win,” Weinstein predicted.

A second speaker rose to offer more support for Mooney.

“I don’t know if anyone else will even run,” said Weinstein. “Who would want the job?”

To her surprise, a third speaker nominated another retired teacher.

“Hmm,” murmured Weinstein. Even Williams seemed surprised. “What’s your name?” he asked the speaker, his voice suddenly louder and commanding.

“Notice how he didn’t ask the other speakers–the ones who supported Mooney–for their names,” observed Weinstein. “He’s trying to intimidate people.”

A fourth speaker nominated yet another candidate–James Ward, who oversees the teachers’ pension fund.

“What’s your name?” boomed Williams.

“I hate it when they do that,” said Weinstein. “I don’t like it when they intimidate people for just making a nomination.”

Another speaker seconded Mooney’s nomination. “You know, I think I’ll second Ward’s nomination,” said Weinstein. “I think he’s done a good job with the pension.”

She walked to the microphone, taking her place behind a man in a red sport jacket who was explaining, as a point of order, that all candidates must be seconded in order to be officially nominated.

Weinstein’s eyes narrowed. She looked perplexed. Why was he making that rather obvious point?

The man moved ahead with his motion. “I move to cut off the nominations,” he said.

Weinstein’s eyes popped open. Suddenly she understood. If they stopped the nominating now–before any other candidate could be seconded–only Mooney could run!

Weinstein looked around the room. People were eating their cake and drinking their coffee. No one seemed particularly upset. They didn’t know. They needed a warning.

To the mike stepped Weinstein. Her voice was loud and clear. “My name is Grace Weinstein,” she announced. She stared defiantly at Williams and declared, “Write it down, write it down.”

Weinstein turned to the audience. “I’d like to second the nomination for James Ward.”

Williams said she couldn’t. There was another motion on the floor.

Weinstein shook her head. “It hasn’t been seconded,” she said.

From a table at the front a woman yelled out, “I second the motion. You don’t have to be at the mike to second the motion.”

“That’s not proper procedure,” said Weinstein.

By now Weinstein’s two friends had returned to their table. “What’s Grace doing at the microphone?” asked Doris.

“I can’t believe you guys are missing this,” someone at her table said. “Since you went to the bathroom they tried to steal the election.”

“Wait a moment,” Williams was telling Weinstein.

Now more people had caught on. From different sections of the banquet room, voices rang out.

“You see what they’re doing–”

“They’re cheating–”

“They’re railroading it–”

“You’re too rough,” someone called out to Williams.

“We’re not rough. We play by the rules,” said Williams.

He turned to Weinstein. “I can’t recognize you to second [Ward’s] nomination because [another] motion’s been called. You can’t wipe it off the floor. It was motioned and duly seconded.”

“But it wasn’t seconded from someone at the microphone,” a teacher called out. “You have to recognize people at the microphone–”

“We’re going to vote on the motion,” said Williams.

“This is a disgrace,” said Weinstein.

“We have a motion to close the nominations,” said Williams.

“But that’s not fair–”

“If you would listen, you’ll hear it’s not what you think,” said Williams.

“Give everyone a turn to be nominated–”

Williams said they’d vote on whether to close the nominations to the three candidates already nominated.

His attempt at compromise hardly satisfied Weinstein. “Why are we voting on that? That’s not even the motion that was made,” she said. “If someone else wants to run, they should have the right.”

Williams ignored her. He asked everyone in favor of the motion to stand up. He counted 14 people standing.

He asked everyone opposed to stand. It was overwhelming. There must have been over 100 people standing.

The people sat. Some cheered. There was a pause. Then Williams spoke. “The nominations are still open.”

“He doesn’t look too happy about that,” said Doris.

Mooney sat at the dais, her face expressionless.

To the microphone stepped a woman. She said her name had been placed in nomination, but she wanted to withdraw.

Then Ward took the microphone. “While I appreciate the fact that you nominated me, maybe it’s not the time,” he said. “I withdraw.”

No one else was nominated. Just like that, Mooney’s supporters got what they wanted–an unopposed election. Mooney’s reelection was gaveled through by Williams, and a few minutes later the meeting ended.

In the aftermath, Weinstein was the center of attention. Williams stopped by to tell her that she had misunderstood what was going on. “We were just following the rules,” he said.

“I know parliamentary procedure,” Weinstein countered. “I know rules of order.”

Other colleagues congratulated her for her courage. One person shook her hand. A man gave her his business card and suggested they have lunch. “Only if I take my husband,” she said.

Someone told her: “You got guts–”

“They sing ‘solidarity forever’ and then they try to steal the election–”

“You should have run–”

“Ah–it’s only a ceremonial position,” said Weinstein. “They didn’t even have to do it–she probably would have won anyway. I have nothing against Mooney. If she wants the job, let her have it. But come on, don’t steal it.”

She gathered her purse and headed for the elevators. “It turned out to be an entertaining luncheon,” she said. “I don’t think Senator Durbin would have been this interesting.”

Daley Haunts a Vacant Lot

It’s been good news and bad news over the last few weeks for residents at and around the intersection of Kimball and Addison. The bad news is that the ten and a half undeveloped acres there–the largest single slab of vacant land around–remains undeveloped.

The good news is that Mayor Daley has finally taken a stand on the issue (first written about here last November 24). “We got a public statement on the matter from the mayor,” says Michael Graff, a member of the Irving Park Neighbors Association, a community group. “Well, I think we got a public statement from the mayor. You see, it’s complicated.”

The miracle is that so much land (now industrially zoned) remains undeveloped even as developers scramble to build on every inch of open space around it. Richard Mell, the 33rd Ward’s alderman, has been working with residents for more than two years to put a school or housing there. But each time Mell, residents, and developers come close to a deal, it’s vetoed by City Hall. For residents, it’s been an exasperating delay, disproving the myth that aldermen, even aldermen as mighty as Mell, control all development in their wards. “The thing is that Daley never came out to the community and said he was against residential there,” says Graff. “We always hear about his opposition through Mell, who would tell us, ‘I’m trying, but the mayor won’t budge.'”

Last month, Graff and all his neighbors thought they had a deal for 164 units of upscale housing. “We were really rockin’ and rollin’,” says Graff. “The developer was coming to our meetings and putting on the whole dog and pony show and working with us. In April we had this big meeting, and we voted to support the development. We think that’s it, we’ve got it.”

But in May they opened their Sun-Times and read that Daley had nixed the deal. “It was in an article about a news conference Daley had to announce the opening of the new Costco over on Clybourn,” says Graff. “Here, I’ll read it to you. The new Costco ‘and its 250 jobs are…on a site that also was eyed for residential development at one time, prompting a threat by nearby Vienna Sausage to leave the city. Vienna Sausage was concerned that an influx of new residents would translate into a barrage of complaints about noise and smells emanating from the company’s plant. Daley fought to keep the land zoned for a use that would produce jobs, just as he appears ready to do at Addison and Kimball.’

“How about that last line? How’s that for objectivity? Why don’t they just have the City Hall press office write the articles?”

Daley’s point is that more residential units may force out the 26 or so industries still in the area around Kimball and Addison. It’s a point of view seconded by NORBIC–until recently the North Business & Industrial Council.

But residents insist that the empty land’s too expensive for industry. “I don’t know how many industries can afford to go there,” says Graff. “So as long as the city insists on industrial, the land will remain vacant.”

In the meantime, residents are circulating a petition calling on the city to change the site’s zoning from industrial to residential. “Mell supports the petition–he’s even got some of his precinct captains circulating it–but he says we have to get Daley’s backing,” says Graff. “So we sent a letter to the city and we got back a one-paragraph response from the Department of Zoning that says, ‘The zoning change is a legislative procedure. You should direct concerns to that area’s alderman. Neither the mayor nor the Department of Zoning has a vote in the amendment process.’

“Isn’t that something? Mell says the mayor has the power and the city says the alderman has the power. You tell me what we’re supposed to do.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.