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.
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.