Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Hello there. I can't believe you've won! Congratulations. Some of you may be wondering, "OK, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world — alderman of a ward in Chicago, the Super Bowl of politics. What now?"

Well, first of all, freshman alderman pick up the tab, in the rare cases senior aldermen will even invite you to come out with them. They probably won't. Well, some of them might, but that's just because they know you have to pick up the tab (Alderman Doherty, I'm looking in your direction) and they won't talk to you once you guys are out. That's just how they are.

Second, you're going to have a lot of favors to pay back. There were a lot of people who volunteered time knocking on their neighbors door for you, and this means they think they are now your best friend and you "owe" them. So any minor problem they have with anything ever, they're going to call you. And if you don't call them back, they're going to tell everybody you're a bum, and they'll knock for your neighbor in four years. Don't anger these people. Trust me. Very few people drag themselves off the couch and go through the excruciating process of annoying people at home to talk about your ass for anything but the knowledge that they'll have an in with the alderman. That "civic duty" stuff fades awful quick if you don't get that business owner to quit parking his damn delivery van behind this guy's driveway. Do yourself a favor and return those phone calls.

Third, prepare yourself for paralyzing boredom. You know all those Mike Royko books filled with his columns about the seedy, fascinating world of Chicago politics? Those columns were fascinating because they were collections of many, many years of columns. In between those columns were a whole heaping stinking bushel of Committee meetings, sub-committee meetings, community nights, office hours, photo ops with grade school kids who don't know who you are or why they should care that you're presenting them with a signed basketball, and calls from mildly racist residents who want you to do sic the police on somebody. Also, you're transitioning from an election campaign, probably one of your first as a candidate. You were able to win in the rumble tumble land of Chicago politics. There's a lot of adrenalin and testosterone flowing through you right now. The crash of your first meeting with the parliamentarian should be a more accurate window into the next three and a half years. By the way, don't give an honor to one softball team unless you plan to give it to all of them eventually. Seriously.

Next, you should be aware that there is a public perception (to the very small fraction of the public that bothers to pay attention to municipal politics) that you rode in on a wave pro-labor, anti-Daley sentiment. I know that isn't necessarily true, but the media are, generally, hacks, and so you'll get a lot of questions any time a union issue comes up. And if you vote against the union, expect people to accuse you of selling out, or failing to dance with them that brung ya. Don't piss of who brung ya. Because they can un-brung ya. So if you plan on really being "your own man/woman," you better start raising money tomorrow and not stop for three years, taking breaks only to raise money for your neighboring aldermen and raise money. Then you should take a moment to raise some money. That should keep you safe.

If Mike Zalewski (23rd) asks you to try on his coat, don't do it. Just trust me.

Please, please, please, don't hurt Chicago. Chicago is pretty nice. We enjoy many things about it. There are many things about it we don't like, and we'd like you to fix those things. It's a very simple formula: Try to make things better, but definitely don't make things worse. We've all figured out a way, more or less, to live with how Chicago is now. It isn't easy, but we make it. So don't make it harder, OK? Don't do things like invite massive, quality-of-life altering developments into our neighborhoods without real input from us.

I know you think you know the ward pretty well, but you don't. You hardly know it at all. Even those of you who went out and knocked every door and tried to talk to everybody. Because those residents are one person when a friendly young candidate is asking for their vote and talking about doing good by 'em and, who knows, maybe we'll stop some of that government waste? They're a completely different person when they don't get their block party permit on time or when their fence gets broken down for the third time by kids cutting through their yard. There are those people, just about every block — in some neighborhoods, every other block, in some neighborhoods, you got two a block — who have the ears of everybody around them. They can spread a rumor quicker than you can say, "Committeeman," and they can kill a rumor just as quick. They will send a minion to every ward night and ward meeting you hold until the matter is addressed. Quickly, your name becomes toxic for entire city blocks because you didn't return a phone call or your office staff was rude. You think you know who those people are? No. Walter Burnett knows. Ted Matlak didn't.

Finally, a word about the Olympics. This is supposedly Chicago's big chance to burst onto the world scene. To inch Chicago closer to New York's place as a "capital of the world." To take its place beside great international cities like Athens and Seoul. If Chicago is ready to take that step up to world-class status, we're going to put you all to the same standard. We're not going to let you slack on this one, or do it half-assed. We're not going to let this Olympics be the excuse to finally kill off Old Chicago to build a New Chicago, a network of developers and big business loyal only to you, unaccountable to the pesky "residents" who really make Chicago such a great place to visit and live. If we end up getting it — and I realize that's a big if — we are getting it. Not you. Not some abstract "Chicago." We are getting it. So it's going to work for us. And we'll make you pay if you mess that up.

Being a member of Chicago's City Council is an honor. And I have to think that despite the boredom, strong-arming and general agitation, it is one of the best jobs on the planet Earth. And we know this. So we're not going to give you a break. You gotta earn it.

To quote a now-lost El train alert, "This is Chicago."

GB store


Darrylm / April 30, 2007 6:27 AM

When you become a Chicago resident maybe a letter such as this will have some meaning.

irishpirate / April 30, 2007 8:25 AM


Richard, you don't live in the city?

If so that makes you Gapers Block version of John Kass.......da bard of Naperville.

Andrew / April 30, 2007 10:38 AM

WTF are you talking about, darrylm? Richard lives in Bridgeport.

irishpirate / April 30, 2007 5:28 PM

Richard? Richard?

Do you live in da city or are you a mere suburbanite?

Your readers want to know.

Richard F Carnahan / April 30, 2007 10:54 PM

Um, I live in the city numbnuts.

irishpirate / May 1, 2007 3:29 AM

Praise the ghost of da first Mare Daley.

Besides no nothing no bid contracts for Tony Rezko there is little more annoying than political pundits who cover city politics yet live far far away. In places with driveways, three car garages, and two mile drives to da Walgreens.


About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15