Aldermania: Watchdogs and hotdogs
This time last year, Springfieldians met the newest cast members on Municipal Channel 18's hit TV series, City Council! -- the reality show that is part Survivor, part The Apprentice, and part The Gong Show (minus, sadly, the gong). With a full 12 months of episodes under their belts, it's time to give those new players their first annual review.
The new crop included two Democrats and two Republicans -- not that it matters on this officially non-partisan show -- and in both tribes, one freshman quickly emerged as class hotdog.
For the Republicans, it was Ward 1 Alderman Frank Edwards, the retired Springfield Fire Department chief who finds time to research every ordinance and memo that lands in his council mailbox. Edwards has developed a reputation as a "pot stirrer" and something of a watchdog on the council.
Among the Democrats, the star is, of course, Mayor Tim Davlin, who has the kind of natural charisma that would make him a leader even without the advantages other aldermen lack, such as a support staff, a script, and that big wooden hammer. His first-year record is mixed: The council axed huge portions of his reorganization plan, but he won a historic sales tax increase, thanks to the alliance he formed (probably in grammar school) with veteran aldermen Chuck Redpath and Tom Selinger, representing Wards 4 and 9 respectively.
The other two freshmen are making names for themselves, too. Ward 6's Mark Mahoney, a quiet Democrat, now has on an upcoming agenda the "one-stop shop" for neighborhood services he proposed months ago. He has the mayor's help and a hunch his ordinance will pass within a few weeks. "I can't imagine anybody would not vote for that," he says.
Ward 5's Joe Bartolomucci is the freshman alderman most often found marching to the beat of a different drummer. The only ordinance he has sponsored was a DOA proposal to rope off the popular fishing spot known as the "hot ditch" to protect City Water, Light & Power's Lakeside facility from potential evil-doers in boats. "That got me a vote or two on the (WMAY-AM) Jim Leach Show for Butthead of the Year," Bartolomucci says, not at all sheepishly.
At the last council meeting, he was again marching alone, arguing against the $830,000 settlement Davlin negotiated to end the race discrimination lawsuit filed by former Springfield Police officer Renatta Frazier. Bartolomucci says Davlin "buckled under to political pressure from East Side residents," and he questions the amount, citing the $2 million settlement recently negotiated in a sexual abuse case involving multiple plaintiffs. "Was Renatta Frazier harmed like that? Certainly not," he says.
But his real concern was how Davlin announced the deal, via a brief phone call informing him of the amount. "I felt like he was telling me, 'Hey, show up Tuesday night and vote on this.' "
He expects to make another solo stand in an upcoming ordinance that will award more than $200,000 of downtown TIF money to developers Mark and Denny Polk, who have already gotten more than $1 million from the fund. Mark Polk was one of Bartolomucci's opponents for council in the 2003 election, but that's not why Bartolomucci plans to vote against the TIF gift.
"I'll call Denny Polk what he is: He's a wealthy developer," Bartolomucci says. "And I really feel like they're taking advantage of the TIF. The guy who started Wienerdog or Recycled Records -- I think that's what the TIF is for, people who can't tap into liquid assets like some developers can."
All in all, still the best show on Tuesday nights.