Chicago-pedia: Neighborhood stuff & politics

An encyclopedia of the terms that define our city. In this edition, we cover some of Chicago’s neighborhoods and politicians.

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A woman runs along the Bloomingdale Trail (the 606) in Logan Square.


Some call it “Chicago-ese,” or “Chicago-speak.” Whatever you call it, we’re capturing it here, in Chicago-pedia — highlighting our local terminology and linguistic quirks (sometimes with humor and obvious exaggeration).

FIRST NAMES: What we like to call Chicago politicians by (i.e. Rahm, Toni, Lori), treating them as close friends even if they’re hammering us with higher taxes.

TIF: “Tax increment financing,” a financial instrument used by local government to funnel taxpayer money to rich people under the guise of urban renewal.

THE 606: Popular running/riding/walking trail on an abandoned, elevated freight-train right of way; yoga pant capital of region.

BLOCK PARTY: Festive outdoor event in which a residential block is cordoned from traffic one day a year so residents can drink to excess and crawl home, while their children play in a bounce house.



Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

DIBS: The unwritten Chicago code that says, if you’re the one shoveling out a parking spot on the street outside your home, you get to park there. Usually enforced by the presence of lawn chair or something else easily found in the garage. Woe to those who don’t abide.

219: Where political careers go to die. The address refers to 219 S. Dearborn St. in Chicago, home of the Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, where federal prosecutors drag corrupt politicians to face the music. Mobsters don’t fare too well there, either.



Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

SMOKE-FILLED ROOM: Place behind the scenes where politicians choose candidates. Origin: Suite 804-805 of the old Blackstone Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, where Republican bosses in 1920 chose Warren G. Harding as candidate for president. Increasingly archaic. See: Smoking bans. See: Latte-filled room.

ALDERMAN: 1. Mayor of ward.

2. At times prey for federal investigators and corrupt developers.

SHAME: Something most of our politicians have very little of.

MADIGAN: 1. Michael J. Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. South Side Democrat. Machiavellian political tactician. Longest-serving speaker of any state House in the country. Nemesis of former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

2. Politician who is connected to — but has yet to be charged with wrongdoing over — a sweeping FBI investigation into city and state government, including lobbying activities for ComEd.

3. Property tax appeals attorney whose firm has clients throughout the city and suburbs.

4. Because of all of the above, name often uttered in anger by Illinoisans fed up with soaring taxes and crummy government services.

MARIA: Maria Pappas, longtime politician who loves to twirl a baton in parades. Once declared, “Cook County is a whorehouse.”

HAROLD: Harold Washington, first black mayor of Chicago. A term of intimacy used by supporters and, on memorable occasions, the mayor himself: “You want Harold? Well, heeeere’s Harold!”

MARE: Correct pronunciation of “mayor.”

FRIDAY: The day on which local politicians love to release bad news, hoping that by doing so it’ll be forgotten by the public over the weekend.

FIGHTING JANE: Nickname for Jane Byrne, first female mayor of Chicago.


Fighting Jane.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

GRAVEYARD: 1. Once a popular precinct for active Cook County voters in close elections. Officials have worked to purge the names of the dead from voting rolls — but the county’s reputation of dead people voting early and often is harder to cleanse.

2. Often the longtime home of a person being blamed in a current scandal.

3. Final resting place for many, unless it’s in the way of a runway expansion project.

HACK: 1. A Chicago politician, no matter the party affiliation.

2. Bad cough.

DALEY: Richard M. Daley, city’s longest-serving mayor, eclipsing his late father, Richard J. Daley. Ushered Chicago’s economy into modern era, beautified city and put it on world stage. But presided over numerous corruption scandals, and plunged municipal finances into Hades, saddling generations of taxpayers with punishing obligations.

50: Why in God’s name are there that many aldermen in Chicago?

FIFTH FLOOR: The seat of power in Chicago. Refers to the Office of the Mayor, located on the fifth floor of City Hall. If an order comes from the Fifth Floor — previously “The Man on Five” and now “The Woman on Five” — it’s supposed to get done, e.g., “I don’t know why, but this comes from the Fifth Floor, OK? So do it.”


Fifth Floor.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times


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