Aldermen, Beware of Slow News Days

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(Photo: Can you hear me now? Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney. Credit: Gay Games Chicago.)

Yesterday, I was thrilled to learn that nothing bad happened, had happened, or was about to happen in the City of Chicago. I was told so by the Chicago Sun-Times.

And here I’d been worrying about looming CTA Doomsday, the largest property tax increase in city history, and another local sports team downspiral. Bad on me for failing to realize that those pesky problems had all been cleared up.

But they must have been, because yesterday, according to the front page of the Sun-Times, the most distressing problem in the Second City was a moving violation by a north-side Chicago alderman. Tom Tunney, alderman of the 44th ward (home to Lakeview, Boystown, and the last local team to choke under pressure) illegally held a cell phone to his ear while driving, got caught, and got slapped with a ticket.

Embarrassing behavior in any other city where local lawmakers are assumed to actually obey the laws they make, but then this is Chicago. So if you’re like me, you’re failing to see the news story in Tunney’s unfortunate lapse of judgment.

Luckily, as you know, unfortunate lapses of judgment in the Second City extend far beyond our elected leaders. Some would say we and/or all of our forebears made a colossal lapse of judgment in choosing as a home a place with a climate so heavenly that for several months a year you can walk on water. Primarily because it’s frozen, occasionally because the sewage congeals after a big rain.

More recently, the Chicago Police Department decided to give Alderman Tunney his driver’s license back–via hand delivery, no less–before his court date on the aforementioned ticket. And bad news for Tunney, literally, as his face hit the front page of the Sun-Times and both local dailies accused him of getting preferential treatment (Sun-Times, Tribune).

Now if Tom Tunney can call the CPD and force them to do something, anything, then he can work miracles with the law that even longtime, former aldermen never could. Good old ousted 42nd ward Alderman Burt Natarus almost got himself arrested for merely arguing with a cop over unleashed dogs in Washington Square Park a couple of years back. And Arenda Troutman didn’t do such a good job holding back the fuzz, either.

If there’s one legal way for local law enforcement to blow off steam without having to kick some poor schlep to the floor in a downtown barroom brawl captured on videotape, it’s busting aldermanic chops. So Town Hall District Commander Gary Yamashiroya deciding to give Alderman Tunney his license back early was a big lapse in judgement. Not so much because in doing so he was treating the alderman in a way that the average Chicago scofflaw would never be treated, but because of the guff he’s going to get from his fellow officers for being such a big softie.

Yesterday I was surprised at Commander Yamashiroya’s face being plastered on the cover of the Sun-Times. I was surprised because it wasn’t there. A Chicago police officer makes a stupid decision to offer unfair treatment to someone, and that someone gets blamed for it because his name is more prominent. And isn’t it delicious to tear down prominent names on a slow news day?

This city’s long-gone columnist laureate, Mike Royko, would call that kind of story a “Gotcha” story. He thought they were unfair to the point of stinking and I do, too.

Last week, the Chicago Reader mulled over the chances of the Sun-Times to become the city’s new progressive voice, as it announced it was re-branding itself over the summer. The Reader noted there’s a line between defending the rights of the little guy and pandering, and wondered whether a paper more known for “pinhead journalism” would be able to give the correct weight to the most important stories.

I give journalism at the Sun-Times far more credit than does the Reader. But shoving an uncontroversial alderman (and being the city’s first openly gay alderman, that says a lot) into the middle of a page-one “Gotcha” story because of someone else’s lapse of judgment is a fine example of another lapse of judgment.

Tunney’s face may sell more newspapers than Yamashiroya’s would, but he simply isn’t the heart of the story. The CPD knows that, that’s why they’re investigating Yamashiroya.

Anyone who knows Tom Tunney knows how hardworking a fellow he is. What other Alderman in this town can be regularly seen pouring coffee and busing tables every Sunday morning? I once asked Tunney why his flagship Ann Sather on Belmont Avenue couldn’t be open later in the evening. His response: “Oh, honey, you should have been here in the eighties when we were open 24 hours. You try turning a profit on a restaurant these days.”

Anyone who knows me knows any handsome older man who calls me honey is instantly my friend, so I can’t fault the alderman for being a hard worker. But he is taking the wrong tack in accusing the CPD of having better things to do than write cell-phone tickets. He should try crossing Wacker Drive on foot more often, where it is not infrequent for us downtowners to witness some shmo in an SUV too concerned with holding his Razr up to his cheek to notice the pedestrian or two dragging from his rear bumper.

That’s not how I’d like to go. I can just hear the Sun-Times reporter standing over my lifeless form in the middle of Wacker: “Eh, this guy was just asking for it. Look, he’s still holding his iPhone.”

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