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Beale says he has the votes to curb honorary street signs

Hal Baskin (in yellow) at the unveiling of his honorary street sign with (from left) Ald. Roderick Sawyer, Ald. Toni Foulkes, mayoral aide Vance Henry and the Rev. Bryant David in 2016. | Provided photo

An influential alderman said Wednesday he has the votes to curb the City Council’s political addiction to honorary street designations but only after seven more signs are added to the list, including one honoring Oscar Lopez Rivera.

“As of right now, I do have the votes,” Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) said Wednesday, on the eve of the vote.

Beale said he had “no position” on the honorary street sign for Lopez Rivera proposed by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th).

RELATED: Alderman relents on honorary street sign for former gang member

Before his 70-year sentence was commuted in the waning days of the Obama administration, Lopez spent 35 years of his life in federal prisons for his role as a leader in the militant Puerto Rican nationalist group, FALN.

The group claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings across the U.S. during the 1970s, including here in Chicago, although Lopez’s supporters argue he was never convicted of personally hurting anyone.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Transportation Committee will consider Maldonado’s proposal to designate a three-block stretch of North Luis Munoz Marin Drive as Oscar Lopez Rivera Way.

Maldonado could not be reached for comment.

Last month, he was among a handful of Chicago aldermen to join U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and others from around the country for, what turned out to be a successful demonstration outside the White House in a last-ditch plea for now former President Barack Obama to free the 74-year-old Lopez Rivera from the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution.

The Lopez Rivera designation is one of seven on the Transportation Committee’s agenda.

An honorary Trump Plaza street sign became a flashpoint for protests against Donald Trump last year, and the Chicago City Council voted to remove the signs on Wabash Street. Proposed changes in the honorary street sign ordinance would end the practice of
An honorary Trump Plaza street sign became a flashpoint for protests against Donald Trump last year, and the Chicago City Council voted to remove the signs on Wabash Street. Proposed changes in the honorary street sign ordinance would end the practice of honoring people when they are still alive. | Sun-Times file photo

At the same meeting, Beale will try again to close the barn door after the horses are already out.

Beale’s newly revised ordinance would limit the number of annual honorary street designations to two per aldermen and require aldermen to bankroll those signs with $850 from the $1.32 million in “menu money” set aside each year to each of the city’s 50 wards to spend on infrastructure repairs of the local alderman’s choosing.

The signs would sunset after five years and be removed unless the designation is renewed. No living individual could be so honored. They would have to be deceased to qualify for an honorary street sign.

The $850 cost is down from an original estimate of $1,000 per sign that drew fire from aldermen.

“Nobody wants to give up this perk. But everybody understands it’s a problem for the [Transportation] department. We have to stop the presses to put these signs out because they don’t go through the normal process. That forces everybody to stop what they’re doing to take care of it,” Beale said.

Why limit the honorees to the deceased?

“You don’t dedicate a building to someone who’s alive. Chicago is one of last cities that do honorary street signs and dedicate them to people who are still living. Every month, it’s a huge number coming through. It becomes a burden,” Beale said.

“To get a handle on it and make this nonpolitical, we have to make these changes. A lot of people use these to gain political favor with communities. But, if the person is deceased, it takes the politics out of it.”

At a Transportation Committee meeting in December, Beale ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from his colleagues. So much so that he was forced to temporarily back off.

“We are, because of a couple of controversial things, throwing out an awful lot of our history. We named a sign in my ward this year for the 92-year-old metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church. Why do you have to wait until he’s dead in order to show people that he is respected and an important part of our community?” Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said on that day.

“We are creating a whole lot of bureaucracy over something that gets in the way of honoring local heroes because of a couple controversies. This is just swatting a fly with a canon. . . . This is a terrible thing to remove from a local community that wants to pay homage to someone who has made a big difference in their lives. And then, somebody is making it part of our neighborhood tourism.”

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) took particular issue with the sunset that would require existing signs honoring living individuals to be removed after five years.

“We’ve honored people because of their work in the community and then, after five years, we’re in essence saying that you have a term limit as to your designation and we’re not going to renew your sign because you’re living. So please die real soon,” Taliaferro said.