Ald. Bernard Stone, who has been representing the 50th Ward since it was populated by Pottawattomi Indians, is both the most inert and the most animated member of the Chicago City Council.
Berny, as he is affectionately known, has been seen napping in the Council chambers. But on Wednesday he woke up long enough to give a frenzied defense of his own integrity during the debate over hiring an inspector general to investigate aldermen.
“I’ve served in this council for 37 years,” the 82-year-alderman shouted, his open lapels flapping as he waved his arms. “I don’t have a guilty conscience. We don’t need an inspector general! If you want to arrest me, pull me over on Randolph Street.”
Stone went on to call out the Chicago Sun-Times, a supporter of the inspector general’s ordinance. The newspaper’s previous owner, Conrad Black, is in prison for fraud. So who are they to talk to an alderman about ethics?
“Maybe they should have had an inspector general,” he said. “They have the temerity, they have the audacity to preach to us?”
Stone was particularly incensed that the inspector general’s decision with be subject to review by the city’s Board of Ethics.
“The Ethics Board? They're members of the executive branch,” Stone shouted. “Is everybody in this body nuts?”
This led 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, one of ordinance’s authors, to remark that the Council was about to vote on whether she was nuts. She looked in Stone’s direction.
Other aldermen sounded hurt by this challenge to their integrity. To illustrate their honesty and hard work, they told maudlin stories of motherhood and helping handicapped children.
“I don’t know any criminals on this council, not one,” said 28th Ward Ald. Ed Smith. “So all of a sudden this spontaneous combustion comes about, we need someone to keep an eye on us.”
Morality can’t be legislated, Smith said. It must be taught from birth. Smith was taught morality by his own mother, who raised 12 children.
“I was taught right from wrong by my mother,” he said. “If you didn’t get it through your head, you’d get it through your behind.”
And then there was Richard Mell of the 33rd Ward, who learned politics from cigar-chomping ward bosses in the Age of Richard J. Daley. Mell told a story of helping a deaf child. His reward? The child spelled out “Thank You, Aldermen Mell” on a model train set.
“I’m sure every one of us can tell a story like that,” Mell said. “Don’t tar every one us with the brush of a bad apple.”
Alas, the rest of the aldermen don’t trust themselves as much as Stone, Smith and Mell do. The ordinance passed, 28-17.
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