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Evans thrives at head of ’21’ – He deploys troops for mayor in Council Wars

Tim Evans appears on the Bob Collins show. | Sun-Times file photo.

The alderman is an old-fashioned ward heeler and a new-fangled reformer. His ward includes neighborhoods both rich and poor. Militants and regulars alike cast sidelong glances at his performance. He never blows his cool.

Small wonder that Ald. Timothy C. Evans (4th), Mayor Washington’s floor leader and political organizer, has a fuzzy public image.

In Council Wars, he is the two-star general who deploys the troops while the four-star generals grab the headlines.

In the front row of the City Council, the clash of battle resounds across a narrow aisle separating Evans from an opposing strategist, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).

Burke, white-haired and florid-faced, stands at Evans’ left and rants about a parliamentary misstep that Evans committed.

Meanwhile, Burke’s leader, Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th), prowls the aisles for a whisper here, a clap on the back and a shared joke there.

Evans remains seated.

One by one, members of Evans’ minority bloc rise to denounce the Vrdolyak camp’s version of the city budget. Each speaks to a single topic – gangs, the homeless, mayoral appointments held hostage – assigned by Evans in advance.

They call the majority budget shameful, callous, insensitive.

Now, Vrdolyak rises from his front-row seat and glares across the Council floor at Evans. “‘Shame?’ ‘Callous?’ ‘Insensitive?’ Talk to me, alderman!” he shouts.

Gets last word

Evans sits passively with hands folded, grasping a pen.

Next, Vrdolyak insults Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd), who sits at Evans’ right but has left the floor. “Where is Dorothy? We are talking higher math now. She hit the bricks.”

This ritual dance is now almost over. Washington, presiding over the Council, customarily gives his floor leader the last word.

“They don’t want to hear this, Mr. President,” Evans says evenly. “This is the truth here. If I was talking falsehoods, they would have their attention riveted.”

‘A fine day’

Later, Evans reflected, “That was a fine day in the City Council. It was clear that our side was better prepared than the other side.

“They did not attempt to ram their budget through. They could have, they had the votes to do it. But they knew the mayor would veto it.”

However well Evans prepared his troops, the Council debate had little to do with the final budget adopted late last month.

It was fashioned in negotiations primarily between Burke and Washington. Evans’ role was minimal.

Which leaves unclear the question of Evans’ power, how much he asserts and how much Washington is willing to delegate to him.

Sources report that Washington picked Evans as floor leader largely by a process of elimination, for no other black alderman had his combination of experience and polish, except perhaps Ald. Wilson Frost (34th). But Frost alienated Washington by mishandling the 1983 transition, when Council Wars first detonated.

“I did not seek [the post],” Evans said. “I cannot tell you even today how it happened. I just was asked by the mayor to help him with his programs.”

Shepherding 21 aldermen overwhelmed by Vrdolyak’s 29 may seem a thankless, frustrating task. Evans, never defeatist, relishes the occasional victories – especially in his own South Side lakefront ward, a political garden he carefully tends.

‘He got burned’

“Vrdolyak had no meetings at all of his {City Council} Neighborhood Committee until there was a major controversy in my ward having to do with {public} housing {on 47th Street},” Evans said.

“He came into this area. Our community told him . . . we didn’t want {him to} come in here and exacerbate the situation. He fanned the flames and got burned himself . . .

“We’re surviving and thriving.”

Surviving and thriving have been Evans’ watchwords since he entered politics as a favorite of the late Ald. Claude W. B. Holman, who delivered black votes for Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Born in 1943 in Arkansas, Evans came to Chicago as a teenager, attended the University of Illinois and planned to be a doctor. He was steered to John Marshall Law School by Glenn Johnson, president of the local black bar association, during the height of the civil rights movement.

“He was our protege,” recalled Ald. Anna R. Langford (16th). “The Cook County Bar Association promoted him all the way through law school. He has handled himself very well.”

At Holman’s request, Evans tutored some 4th Ward students and soon began performing political chores.

Getting his law degree in 1969, Evans went straight into government. He was an assistant corporation counsel, deputy commissioner of the Department of Investigation and chief Cook County hearing officer for the secretary of state. Live in Kenwood

When Holman died in 1973, Evans succeeded him as committeeman and alderman and opened a private civil law practice in the Loop. Today, Evans and his wife Thelma, a physician who also practices in the Loop, live in the Kenwood neighborhood with their 14-year-old twin daughters.

Evans supported Daley and his successors when anti-Machine reformers such as Langford did not, but finally bolted the Machine in protest of Mayor Jane M. Byrne’s Chicago Housing Authority appointments.

Byrne reacted, he said, by trying to gerrymander him and neighboring Ald. Lawrence S. Bloom (5th) out of their wards in 1983.

“It didn’t work. I was re-elected, Bloom was re-elected and Jane Byrne was not . . . I have never lost an election.”

Dispensing constituent services like an old-fashioned politician, Evans meets voters in his ward office (4756 S. Cottage Grove) Tuesday and Thursday nights and on Saturdays. He tools through the ward in his Buick, getting hailed by CHA residents, shoppers, cops and others he’s done favors for.

“You ask how I can represent such a diverse ward,” Evans said during a driving tour of it. “There are strengths in diversity.

“We have manpower heavily in one area of the ward {Oakland and Grand Boulevard} and the means by which to put that manpower to work in the other portion {Kenwood and Hyde Park}.

“These people have gone through almost every urban ill that you can imagine, yet they are holding on anyway. Many of the residents were redlined by insurance companies and mortgage companies. Other duties

“These people all along here {South Lake Park Avenue} are being asked to sell their property so that developers can come in and develop along this lakefront the same kind of housing that they currently have downtown.

“I don’t think that these residents will go for it. They’re proud of what they have.”

Looking after his constituents and managing Washington’s legislative bloc are not Evans’ only duties. Washington also put him in charge of his political and fund-raising apparatus, the Political Education Project (PEP).

One strikeout

Evans’ organizing record includes one strikeout — the so-called “litmus test” requiring candidates to denounce Vrdolyak in exchange for PEP support – and one base hit, negotiations that slated a black candidate for county office despite demands by some blacks to boycott the slating.

For the moment, Evans is untouched both by the court-ordered remapping of some wards and the FBI sting operation against some aldermen.

In two months, special elections in the remapped wards could overturn the Vrdolyak camp’s dominance, possibly making Evans the majority leader. Too circumspect to predict victory, Evans does allow that on election night, “I expect to be smiling.”

And surviving and thriving.