Mark Altman isn’t the only son of former Chicago Fire Commissioner Edward P. Altman to land in hot water over alleged wrongdoing.
In the late 1990s, Commissioner Altman and his son Edward F. Altman, who was then head of the Fire Department’s Internal Affairs Division, were forced out in the fallout from a raucous 1990 retirement party captured on videotape at Engine 100, 6843 S. Harper.
The now notorious videotape, played over and over again by local television stations, showed firefighters drinking beer, using racial slurs and mooning the camera.
The younger Altman. “became aware” of the videotape on May 13, 1997, but did not initiate a disciplinary investigation – or even tell his superiors about the videotape – until late November of that year, when he learned that a TV station had a copy, an arbitrator ruled.
As a result, the arbitrator ruled the firing of seven firefighters and suspensions against 21 others were “untimely” because 6 1/2 months had transpired between the time the department first became aware of the videotape and the day the disciplinary investigation was triggered.
At the time, the younger Altman’s wife tearfully accused the arbitrator and City Hall of unfairly pinning the entire sordid incident on her husband.
“If all these people are hired back, that means one person has taken the whole rap for this, and that’s my husband – just because he’s the son of the fire commissioner,” Louise Altman told the Chicago Sun-Times at that time. “I have no words for that. You give 23 years of your life to the city, and this is what you get in return.”
Louise Altman said her husband was powerless to initiate an investigation in May 1997 because Capt. Ezra McCann, who later ran and lost an aldermanic race in the South Side’s 4th Ward, had refused to surrender a copy of the videotape.
At the time, McCann insisted that he held onto the tape because he had no faith that the firefighters would be punished by a Fire Department that, he contended, condones racism.
“Since I see the way life is, I have no choice but to try and create change through another avenue,” he said then.