Bridgeport Ald. Jim Balcer (11th) on Tuesday blamed the strain of vertigo and post-traumatic stress disorder for his decision not to seek re-election, denying that he was forced out to make way for the next generation of Daleys.
“No one said, ‘Jim, you’ve got to leave.’ Never. Warming the seat? The seat’s on fire. I’ve been there for 17 years. I want to make one thing clear: I was not forced out under any circumstances,” said Balcer, 64.
“I could have run for re-election. I chose not to. My daughter is getting married next June. I wanted to be with my wife and kids more. I have vertigo, which is very tough on me, and PTSD. This was a very hard decision for me to make, but my family and my health came first.”
Patrick Daley Thompson, 45, said he’s running for aldermen, but categorically denied having forced Balcer’s hand.
“Absolutely not. You don’t push a Marine out. He’s been there for 17 years. Jim’s a friend. I was surprised when Ald. Balcer decided to retire, but I respect his decision and wish him the best with his health. His decision was his and his family’s,” Thompson said.
Thompson argued that his experience as an attorney specializing in real estate issues will serve the 11th Ward well because portions of Bridgeport, particularly along Halsted, are “ripe for development.”
Thompson said he does not believe he will face an anti-Daley backlash because of corruption scandals, the parking meter debacle and the financial mess his uncle, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, left behind or because of his cousin’s guilty plea in the death of David Koschman.
“My name is Patrick Daley Thompson. I’m very proud of the Daley family. We’re commited to public service, working hard and making tough decisions,” he said.
“I don’t think people will judge me on who my uncle was and who my grandfather was. They’ll judge me based on me. They will judge me based on my ideas on how we can create the safest ward in the city with schools where we can educate our kids and districts we can all be entertained in. That’s the way it should be.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’s talked to Balcer twice about the decision to retire from politics and believes the alderman was truly motivated by health concerns.
“I take him at his word and I think you should,” Emanuel said, when asked whether the “fix was in” to pass the baton to the next generation of Daley’s.
“Given what I heard in his voice is the sense of what he’s dealing with. And if you do any work on some of the issues of post-traumatic stress, that’s how he’s spoken to it. I know this is Chicago. It’s the 11th Ward and all of the politics. I haven’t seen him, but I take him at his word because I heard his voice.”
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported this week that Balcer’s decision to retire would make way for Thompson to claim the 11th Ward seat in the City Council. Thompson is the grandson of former Mayor Richard J. Daley and the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
An attorney, Thompson currently serves as a commissioner on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Thompson has deep roots in the neighborhood. He currently lives in his grandfather’s Bridgeport bungalow at 35th and Lowe.
On Tuesday, Balcer heartily endorsed Thompson as his successor and denied that the once-magic Daley name lost its luster in the 11th Ward,
“I’ll make this simple: I’m proud to say I’m friends with the Daleys. I will support them. The Daleys have been supportive in this ward, and they will continue to be supported. This is a good family and a proud family tradition,” said Balcer, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.
As for Thompson, Balcer said: “He’s intelligent and articulate. He’s been working in the trenches here for a long time. I support him. I welcome Pat. He’ll be a good strong candidate and he has my support. But it wasn’t orchestrated. [11th Ward Committeeman] John Daley has been like a brother to me. We’ve worked very closely together. It is unbelievable anybody would even say that.”
Balcer was appointed to the City Council in 1997 after a corruption scandal that forced the resignation of Ald. Patrick Huels (11th), former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s City Council floor leader.
For 17 years, Balcer has been the City Council’s champion for veterans’ issues. As a Vietnam War veteran and a proud Marine, he ended every speech on the City Council floor with the words: “Semper fidelis” — always faithful.
But until Tuesday, Balcer never said a word in public about his private battle with vertigo or the post-traumatic stress disorder that plagues so many veterans.
“It could be not sleeping good. You have nightmares. When cars backfire, I jump. When fireworks go off, I jump. I’m nervous all the time. It has been tough on me,” Balcer said.
“For years, I just controlled everything in me. I had to be strong. I had to think of what I was doing for family members of those killed in combat and working with veterans. I don’t know if it worsened. It’s just a decision I made with my wife and kids that it was time to step down and pull back. When I dealt with Gold Star family members who lost loved ones, it would get to me. It was tough. I just knew it was time.”
Balcer, who will serve out his current four-year term, said his proudest accomplishments will come as no suprise.
“I’m proud of my accomplishments in the ward. I’m proud I stood up for veterans and the military all of these years. I’m proud that I’m a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. You always hear me say it as I end everything: God Bless America. Semper fidelis,” he said.
Balcer is the second Chicago aldermen to declare plans to retire from politics. Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), a scion of the Cullerton political clan, is the other.
A third alderman, Education Committee Chairman Latasha Thomas (17th), has told the Sun-Times she is uncertain she will seek re-election.