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Na Na, Hey Hey, Good-Bye Burt Natarus!

(Photo: Ding! Dong! The witch is dead! Original Credits: Brendan Reilly–Reilly for Chicago; Burt Natarus–The Haymarket Group, as digitized by swanksalot.)

In one of the most sudden political upsets in modern Chicago history, after 36 years on the city council, last night Burt Natarus was rejected by the voters of the 42nd Ward, the Ward synonymous with downtown Chicago (and the Ward I call home). Challenger Brendan Reilly, a man who wasn’t yet born when Natarus first took office and a virtual unknown to most Ward residents, won the 42nd Ward in stunning fashion, with 55 percent of the vote.

Hands up if you’re really that surprised.

Over the past few months, while Natarus continued with business-as-usual (as I lamented in a recent post), persisting in cozying himself to developers at the expense of the residents of the Ward, Reilly decided on a more resident-friendly strategy. He chose to shun developer contributions and instead and at great length (my fellow neighbors, how many postcards did you receive?) promised a Ward managed for the benefit of the people who live here rather than for the people who build here.

If Burt Natarus had once had the courage to send that message to the residents of the 42nd Ward he might still be in office here.

Personally, I don’t think it ever occurred to him to do so. To my mind, Natarus’ most telling response to Reilly’s challenges came on the February 13 edition of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, when the erstwhile Alderman bluntly stated, “There’s nothing wrong with developers.” True enough. But there’s a lot wrong with catering to them to the exclusion of your own constituents.

Of course, it remains to be seen if Reilly will be up to the responsibilities he’s won for himself. But one thing you can be sure of: developers in downtown Chicago must be shaking in their boots right now. Because the decades-long free ride, the history of scofflaw developer behavior and feeble public oversight of proposed construction projects, is officially at an end.

But perhaps Burt’s greatest miscalculation: forgetting that the thousands of new residents who in the past few years have moved into the Ward’s increasingly dense forest of condo towers–built by his developer buddies with scant public oversight–may not have any idea who he is. Or have links to him. Or believe they owe him an oath of fealty. Or, really, have any idea about his previous four decades of tenure at all.

In a Ward brimming with new residents, it’s unbridled hubris to keep expecting yesterday’s level of blind loyalty from today’s electorate. So if it was Natarus who was instrumental in revitalizing downtown’s 42nd Ward and turning it into a highly attractive residential success (and it was), in the end, maybe he was just a victim of his own success.

No matter though. I don’t care why he’s gone. I just look forward to a more responsive Ward office and a more honest Alderman. Two tricks Burt Natarus’ 36 years of experience couldn’t help him pull off. And there you go.

Literally, if you’re Burt Natarus.

Categories: Politics

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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11 replies

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  3. Brendan Reilly Debuts 42nd Ward E-Newsletter Sign-Up

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  4. Have you read the comments Natarus has made in the press since losing? Today’s Sun Times has this quote: “Being alderman is a big, tough job…I hope he didn’t bite off more than he can chew.” He’s been making comments like that all week long.

    My response: What an arrogant prick. So glad I was one of the 55% who voted against him.

  5. How very reassuring… Chicagoans really can effect change through the ballot box.

    Unfortunately, we weren’t quite so successful up here in the 46th… we’re stuck with Helen Shiller for another four years… sigh…

  6. I can hear the power structure falling as we speak. Votes really do count and I take some solace in the fact that Chicago elections are not voted via the proxy voting system.

    I feel a change a comin’. Congratulations, Mr. Reilly.

  7. Burton Natarus was a good man once and always cared about his Ward. The only thing I ever hated him for was his antipathy of the Smoking Ordinance and his manipulation of the legislation in favor of restaurants that would do away with the City Health Department if they could get their way. It would be wise of you to savor the next few days because unless we live in parallel universes, developers will continue to build in downtown Chicago, plans will go forth to erect bland residential edifices catering to the very people who voted against Natarus, and the downtown area will thrive just as if Natarus still ran things. While the new Alderman of the 42nd ward may not yet qualify for an AARP card, he will no doubt look to his card-carrying Union buddies for future contributions and generous support for whatever legislation they wish in return. Good luck, O’Riley, and welcome to 42nd Ward politics.

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