Aldermania: Bull's eye
There's an old saying about blind pigs. Kind of like the one about broken watches. Even a blind pig occasionally finds a nut. Even a broken watch is right twice a day. So it's possible that even a loose cannon can hit a bull's eye, right?
At the April 20 City Council meeting, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Bartolomucci tried to explain why he was voting against paying $250,000 to SBC. Something about how it "takes SBC forever" to meet with city construction crews, something about a low-hanging phone line on North Grand that could present a hazard, he told me later, to "a little kid riding by on his bicycle with a fishing pole."
"But this is just to pay our phone bill," Mayor Tim Davlin reminded the freshman alderman.
"Right!" Bartolomucci said.
"OK . . ." Davlin responded, suppressing a chuckle as the motion passed 8-1.
Later, developer Denny Polk used the open microphone session to answer "one alderman" quoted in Illinois Times promising to vote against giving him TIF funds because Polk is "a wealthy developer."
"There's currently no covenant against successful developers doing projects in the TIF," Polk said, "and I'm grateful to all the aldermen who are intelligent enough to understand this and not play politics like other aldermen." He was talking about Bartolomucci, who ran against Polk's son, Mark, for his council seat.
But in between those oh-there-goes-Joe moments, Bartolomucci raised a stink so pungent it's still lingering. Pressing Davlin with a series of pointed questions about how he got the $829,000 loan used to settle the Renatta Frazier lawsuit, Bartolomucci inspired another alderman to re-examine the deal. This week, Ward 1 Alderman Frank Edwards asked the state attorney general's office to render an opinion on Davlin's decision to treat the loan as a "professional service" -- exempt from the competitive bidding process.
At the council meeting, Davlin defended his choice by saying that "considering the circumstances," this loan counted as a professional service.
But Bartolomucci pressed on.
"Mayor, this contract went through so fast . . . that I have to ask this question: Do you or any member of your family have, or have you had, a business relationship with the bank that got the loan contract?" he asked.
"I'm offended by that question, but the answer is no," Davlin said. "You know, you've gone overboard, alderman, you've gone overboard."
As Ward 4 Alderman Chuck Redpath rose to Davlin's defense, Bartolomucci could be heard in the background saying, "Very good. Very good." He had trapped the mayor into making an official statement that turns out to be, well, not quite true. Davlin got the loan from the same bank where he has his campaign account.
In the big scheme of things, these questions seem like technicalities. It's hard to find anyone who disputes the end -- settling the Frazier case -- however much they may quibble with the means.
Edwards, for one, says if he'd been on the jury, "I would've voted to give her more money, because you can't do that to people and then turn your back and walk away."
Ward 8 Alderman Irv Smith says settling the lawsuit "was something that had to be taken care of, and the quicker the better."
But Smith says Bartolomucci gets credit for pushing for an explanation on how the loan was arranged. "I was not aware until Joe smoked it out just pretty much what happened," Smith says.
Smith, chairman of the local Republican Party, says some constituents have urged him to rein Bartolomucci in, but he refuses.
"I don't ever go to any Republican and say 'shut your damn mouth.' He's as equal as I am," Smith says.