The public comment period started with the members of the public deemed important speaking first. These are the people whose time is deemed to be valuable by the powers that be so they get to speak first and do not have to sit around and listen to the hoi poloi. Today’s VIPs included Laurence Msall, President of The Civic Federation; Jerry Roper, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce; Robert A. Wislow, Chairman of the Chicago Public Library Foundation and Sara Paretsky, award winning mystery writer.
Msall and Roper expressed the support of their respective organizations for the budget. And then answered very well thought out questions from the assembled attentive Aldermen. These new alderman really want to be legislators. Y’a got to love it.
Wislow and Paretsky delivered inspirational testimony on the importance of libraries and urged the Aldermen and Mayor to reject the proposed budget cuts to the Chicago Public Library. The audience applauded loud and long after their presentations. The Aldermen asked no questions of these two.
The hoi poloi included employees and users of the public libraries, executive directors of mental health facilities that will lose funding; and patients of said mental health facilities.
Eighth Ward Alderman Michelle A. Harris presided over the hearing. She was very fair and even-handed. She became a little flustered about procedure when Sara Paretsky wanted to read a letter from an author not physically in attendance and she had Ms. Paretsky agree that she would fill out testifying witness form on behalf of the letter writer.
The only person Alderman Harris got testy with was Burt Natarus, former Alderman of the 42nd Ward, who took the floor and rambled on and on about his youth in the Great Depression, World War II and Bernie Stone and how neither of them wanted to leave the city counsel. Alderman Harris attempted to get him to stop and he snapped at her about how she had never said hello to him in four years. And she retorted with something and then suddenly Alderman Austin replaced Harris as the presiding officer and Burt was gone. It was a flashback/déjà vu of how the City Council used to be before so many of the old hacks quit or got voted out of office.
I used my two minutes to oppose the reductions in the library budget, to posit the immediate reopening and renovation of the Lathrop Homes as a way provide housing for the homeless and to raise the concern that increasing the water rates and fixing the whole water system was being done to facilitate the privatization of Chicago’s water system.
My best line was, “Libraries are an essential service in a democracy.”
The Mayor was not in the Chamber for any of the public testimony I heard before I left at 2:00 p.m.