The first time I ever saw Berny Stone, he was screaming at a room full of cabdrivers. West Rogers Park is a big cabdriver neighborhood, and they were complaining about the hated law preventing them from parking their cabs on residential streets. When a cabdriver called him despicable, Stone thundered back, “You’re despicable!” Then he lifted his arms so an aide could put on his coat, and left the room.
I’ll try not to remember Chicago’s most colorful alderman that way. Instead, I’ll remember him whenever I pass the corner of Devon and Kedzie, and see the giant baseball advertising Thillens Stadium.
On Tuesday night, after his defeat by Debra Silverstein, Stone told WLS radio that saving the Little League ballpark as one of the greatest accomplishment in his 38 years as an alderman. The stadium, which was built by armored-car magnate Mel G. Thillens in 1938, closed down six years ago because the family trust could no longer support the upkeep. The Chicago Park District took over the North Side landmark, and secured a donation from the Cubs to refurbish the field.
Stone, the City Council’s last World War II veteran also cited holding a Welcome Home parade for Vietnam Veterans, and talking his fellow aldermen out of holding a 1993 World’s Fair to commemorate the Columbian Exposition. That would have caused the city to go broke years before Mayor Daley did it on his own.
Stone did not, however, mention the most famous episode of the career: the building of Berny’s Wall. Incensed that a developer had chosen to build a shopping center in Evanston, instead of Lincoln Village, Stone ordered the erection a three-block-long guardrail that prevented cars from turning off Howard Street into the new mall’s parking lot. After a judge ordered the wall torn down, Stone again tried to divert traffic from Evanston by changing Kedzie Avenue to a southbound-only street. That last less than a week, as constituents complained about the inconvenience. The Howard Street Jewel is now an important part of West Rogers Park life, stocking a full line of kosher food.
Having won nine elections in a row, Stone did not take defeat gracefully. After calling Silverstein a “know-nothing” and saying he felt sorry for the voters of the 50-th Ward, Stone became philosophical about how the wheel had turned to end his career.
“Thirty eight years ago I was with the machine,” he said. “This time I’m fighting the machine.”
Stone also noted that he had helped state Sen. Ira Silverstein get his start in politics, only to have Silverstein take away his ward committeeman’s job and his aldermanic seat.
“I got him started in politics, and now he kicked me out of politics,” Stone said.
To be fair, Stone isn’t just a sore loser. He’s a sore winner, too. Four years ago, after defeating Naisy Dolar in a run-off, he dismissed her as a “pisher,” a Yiddish word for an inexperienced squirt.
He can’t say the same about the Silversteins.
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