Former Northwest Side Alderman John Rice dead at 47

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Former Ald. John Rice. | Sun-Times file photo

John Rice, former alderman of the 36th Ward, has died at 47.

He died Saturday night at home, according to his mentor, former Ald. William J.P. Banks, who sponsored Mr. Rice for his aldermanic post when Banks retired.

At about10 p.m.Saturday, Mr. Rice was taken by ambulance from a house in River Grove to Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, where he was pronounced dead, according to River Grove police chief Rodger Loni, who said he did not know the cause of death.“He was a very good family man,” said Banks, who said Mr. Rice had two daughters. “I think he was a good alderman.”

Before becoming alderman, Mr. Rice worked as a city zoning inspector and was a trusted aide to Banks, an ally of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Mr. Rice was responsible for driving Banks between City Hall and the alderman’s ward office on the far Northwest Side.

He got his start in politics as a child, tagging along with his father as he visited voters on behalf of the powerful 36th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. At 18, he inherited his father’s precinct captain post.

In a 2011 interview, Mr. Rice expressed his admiration for machine politics: “When patronage was alive and well, if you were an employee, let’s say, and you screwed up at work — you did something really bad or stupid — they would call up the committeeman and say, ‘Straighten your guy out.’ And that guy, the committeeman, would call and say: ‘What are you, a moron? Don’t embarrass me.’ ”

Banks retired in 2009 and asked Daley to appoint Mr. Rice to complete his term. Daley obliged despite two high-profile incidents involving Mr. Rice.

Mr. Rice organized a $200-a-ticket retirement party for Banks at a restaurant in Rosemont, sending out invitations that instructed ticket buyers to “make checks payable to William J.P. Banks (Memo — Retirement Party).” The party was canceled after a newspaper report on the invitations.

Mr. Rice also had to remove a Fraternal Order of Police medallion and a police union membership sticker from his car, where he had displayed them despite a state law reserving that privilege for officers.

He once told the Sun-Times he focused on the nuts-and-bolts of ward life, making sure that potholes were filled and that school additions were built. He said he worked six days straight to make sure streets were cleared after Chicago’s February 2011 blizzard.

Like Banks, Mr. Rice was a staunch Daley supporter during his short council tenure.

“After Rice took over, he voted with the mayor on every Council item brought before him, including privatizing the parking meters and allowing a third Wal-Mart to be built,” according to a University of Illinois-Chicago analysis.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while running for his first term in that office, endorsed Mr. Rice in the 2011 election.But Mr. Rice fell short of winning a majority in the first round of voting, and Emanuel did not provide him with help in the runoff. Firefighter Nicholas Sposato unseated Mr. Rice in a defeat that startled party regulars, sinceMr. Rice’s predecessor and sponsor, Banks, had not only been the 20-year-chief of the City Council Zoning Committee but was also Democratic committeeman of the 36th ward.

Mr. Rice blamed his loss on the news stories about the Banks retirement party and the police union medallion and vehicle sticker.

As alderman, Mr. Rice had boasted he could get faster snow removal than other aldermen, and he said Sposato would not enjoy the same clout. His defeat, Mr. Rice said, marked “a sad day for the people of the 36th Ward because the people have no idea what they just did to themselves.”

Soon after Mr. Rice lost his Council seat, then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration gave him a job with the Illinois Department of Transportation. At the time of his death, Mr. Rice was deputy director of the the state agency’s Division of Traffic Safety.

Visitation for Mr. Rice starts at 3 p.m. Thursdayat Montclair-Lucania Funeral Home, 6901 W. Belmont Ave., and his funeral will be held there at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

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