Is the Chicago City Council “slouching towards Gomorrah,” as former federal appeals court justice Robert Bork once famously put it in a 1996 book by the same name?
You might think so from some of the debate at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. It prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is famous for his use of profanity, to admonish aldermen to maintain “decorum.”
It started during the heated Council debate over a compromise plan to license, but not fingerprint, drivers for Uber and Lyft.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) was urging his colleagues not to penalize Uber and Lyft for innovating in a way that allows riders to tap an app, summon a ride and pay the fare on their mobile phones. Cardenas admonished aldermen to “get rid of medallions” and de-regulate the dying taxicab industry, rather than “over-regulate” ride-hailing.
“Someone has found a better way, a better road and they know how to perform it well. Folks have come to me and said, ‘Alderman, I’ve got a, excuse my French, s—– job,’” Cardenas said.
At that point, Emanuel interrupted Cardenas by saying, “Thank God the kids are gone from here.”
Cardenas countered, “I know that you know where I’m coming from on this. Sometimes it takes a little bit of foul language to get the point. It’s true. And [that constituent has] used even more foul language to make his point. The fact that, somehow, we are making it even more difficult for him to change his life and potentially change the job.”
Later in the meeting, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) was a bit more delicate. He used the initials for a vulgar expression to describe the vote to require companies large and small to give their employees at least five paid sick days each year.
“When President Obama passed [mandatory] health care, they were walking up to the podium and, as you know Mr. President, the Vice President Joe Biden said, ‘This is a b.f.d.,’ Moreno said, referring to the term, “Big f—— deal.”
“Well, this earned sick time ordinance is a b.f.d.”
At that point, Emanuel was done joking. He had heard enough.
“On a serious note, there’s a level of decorum here in the Council. I’d like us to … remember that,” the mayor said. Emanuel, who was serving as White House chief-of-staff at the time of Biden’s remark, noted that the vice president’s comment was made “in the ear of the President” — not on the floor of Congress or into a microphone.
Moreno countered, “That’s why I abbreviated it.”
Emanuel was not appeased.
“I understand you abbreviated it. But, I do hope all of us respect this institution when speaking. That’s my one request.”
Moreno later quipped to reporters that he couldn’t believe he was being admonished by Emanuel of all people.
Emanuel has kept his tongue in check in public. But, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has accused the mayor of telling her, “F— you, Lewis” during their earliest meeting.
Emanuel’s use of profanity behind closed doors is so legendary, President Obama often jokes that the carving accident that cost the mayor part of his middle finger and nearly cost him his life at the age of 17 “rendered him mute.”
Still, Wednesday’s meeting was a new low for the City Council. No one could remember the last time that a Chicago alderman or a mayor had used profanity on the Council floor.
The only other time that four-letter words were flying on the Council floor occurred during the furor over former Mayor Jane M. Byrne’s decision to replace blacks with whites on boards overseeing the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Housing Authority.
During a stormy public hearing, CHA activist Marion Stamps was ruled out of order. She stood up in the gallery and screamed, “I’m out of order? The only people who are out of order are them mother-f——.