Enough with the complaining already

Alderpeople mark their departure by whining like teens.

SHARE Enough with the complaining already
The Chicago City Council.

About a third of the Chicago City Council have resigned or are declining to run again.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Show of hands: how many of you are tired of City Council members always complaining? Everybody? I thought so. These alderpeople jostle like piglets at the public teat, for years, slurping up their six-figure aldermanic salaries, enhanced with all sorts of quasi-legal side hustles. Then a sweeter gig beckons, they raise dripping snouts from the mire, wipe a trotter across their mouths, and start bellyaching.

Boo hoo! People opposed me. Lori Lightfoot was mean to me. It isn’t fair!

Get over it. You’re not special. Lightfoot doesn’t like anybody.

Opinion bug


So why I am complaining about the complaining of others? Maybe I caught the hypocrisy virus fogging the air. Maybe I’m just annoyed over Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) exit interview in last Thursday’s Sun-Times, the one where he starts out griping that he could “write a whole book called ‘The Backstabbers’” about Chicago politics because of how treacherous everybody has been to him.

“People who were my friends in office and fraternity brothers subsequently ran against me...”

“Friends”? FRIENDS! Did Brookins, an adult man of 58 years, pair the word “friends” with “in office”?

Howard, let Uncle Neil tell you something you should have known long ago: There are no friends in public life. The affection of politicians, to quote a wiser colleague — OK, Lynn Sweet — is “situational and transactional.” They’re always there when they need you. Then they’re gone, gone, gone.

I understand how the error occurs. On more than one occasion I’ve gotten to know politicians, worked with them on stories, shared meals, visited their homes. I liked them, admired them even, which clouded my judgment.

In general, a friend is someone who hasn’t betrayed you yet. That goes double for public life. No point bitching about it; that just makes you look naive.

Not that Brookins is alone, unfortunately. More than a dozen alderons (mind if we experiment? I don’t like “alderpeople”) bowed out of the next election. Retiring Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), in a tone usually reserved for 7th graders confiding to their diaries, said last week she won’t miss “people who use you and throw you away like a piece of paper towel.”

“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned — especially in the past couple of years — I know who the real people are and I know who the fake ones are,” Sadlowski Garza told the Sun-Times.

To be fair, the whining might not be entirely Brookins’ and Sadlowski Garza’s fault. Compare the Sun-Times stories about their departure to the stories in the Tribune, which seems to be dealing with entirely different people.

In the Trib, Brookins sounds like Cincinnatus. He “took pride in modeling servant leadership for our beautiful communities” and is “thankful for having the trust of my community as we worked together to provide greater economic opportunity and prosperity for our people.”

In the Trib, Sadlowski Garza is almost beatific, “proud and humbled by the responsibility and the trust that has been placed upon me, to create positive and long lasting social change within our communities.”

What was she expecting? I’m someone whose life work actually is used daily and then thrown away, exactly like a piece of paper towel. You don’t see me dampening anyone’s knee with my tears. What does she want, a statue? None of us is permanent; all of us are here only fleetingly and lucky for that.

I get it. Retiring is hard. I’ve watch a parade of newspaper columnists recently march out the door. Just last week, The Trib’s Steve Chapman, with Texan acerbity, tacked a single paragraph at the end of his column, thanking readers for paying attention for 41 years. No fists were shaken. Eric Zorn did a zesty two-parter, calling his family onstage for bows like the “So Long, Farewell” routine at the end of “Sound of Music.” Nobody howled.

Why can’t alderfolk leave with the grace that ink-stained wretches somehow muster? Not that I will, speaking of hypocrisy. Me, I plan to go like Jimmy Cagney at the end of “Angels with Dirty Faces,” clutching the radiator, begging, crying: “I don’t wanna go!”

Kidding. The farewell will probably begin, “Oh, it was a good job!” then be filled with nostalgia and gratitude. Anyone lucky enough to be a newspaper columnist — or an alderpol representing a ward in Chicago — for any span of time should also be smart enough to realize they’ve won the lottery, despite the bumps.

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