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After Thanksgiving weekend blizzard, candidates weigh in on ‘dibs’

Folding chairs calling "dibs" on a shoveled-out space in Bridgeport

These folding chairs were used after a past snowstorm to reserve a spot in the Bridgeport neighborhood. The tradition of calling "dibs" on a parking spot that you shoveled out is dividing candidates for mayor. | Sun-Times library

Politics and snow removal have been intertwined in Chicago ever since the Blizzard of ’79 that buried then-Mayor Michael Bilandic.

After an early blizzard wreaked havoc with Thanksgiving Day weekend return travel, mayoral candidates weighed in Monday on the time-honored “dibs” system.

That’s where people lay claim to parking spaces they’ve shoveled out — using what Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls “sweat equity” – by placing lawn chairs, old furniture and toys in the street.

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico initially tried to avoid taking a position on dibs, well aware it’s a political minefield.

“You mean the chair? I’m not answering that question,” he said.

After being told that his rivals had all declared their positions, Chico came out four-square behind the space-saving tradition.

“I used to do it myself. When I’d shovel out my parking space, I’d put a chair. I’d put a bench. I’d put a two-by-four — whatever I had there,” Chico said, proving that he was a Chicagoan, born and raised.

“If you’re gonna spend an hour shoveling out your space, you ought to be able to use it.”

He added, “The history of snow and politics in this city is known by all of you. So anybody who’s going to be mayor had better be on his or her toes…I intend to have the best cabinet this city has seen in the last half-century at least. And I will have a person there who is ready to go, anticipates, uses the best technology, the best deployment methods and the best people to pick up the snow.”

Mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy is the fired Chicago Police superintendent who came here from New York, but has yet to shed the New York accent.

He proved it again by declaring his opposition to dibs.

“That’s a bad idea. It just causes conflict. Anything that causes conflict, I think, is a bad idea,” McCarthy said.

Told that opposing the sweat-equity tradition was a politically risky move, McCarthy said: “I didn’t know that it was a campaign issue. I’ll work on it.”

McCarthy was asked if he has any new strategies in mind to handle blizzards.

“Stay indoors. Plow the streets. And make sure that you have day care set up the night before, like I did last night because you guys almost saw me here with a baby in my arms. And it would not have been a political thing. It would have been the fact that they closed his day care today,” McCarthy said.

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Like Chico, Bill Daley at first tried to dodge the issue.

“I’m nowhere on dibs. Where are you on dibs?” Daley said with a smile.

In all seriousness, Daley was asked whether he would go so far as to prohibit an unwritten policy that has been known to trigger fistfights and turn some Chicago side-streets into mini-junk yards during snowy winter months.

“No. I wouldn’t outlaw dibs,” Daley said.

Mayoral candidate Dorothy Brown initially professed ignorance on the Chicago tradition.

“Dibs? I’m not familiar with that,” she said.

When the time-honored practice was described to her, she said: “That kind of dibs? We don’t do dibs in my neighborhood.”

But, she added: “If people have gentleman’s and lady’s agreements on dibs [and] they have chairs on dibs, it should be honored. I’m OK with people [reserving spaces]. If that’s your house and you live there and you’re paying your property taxes there, then I’m OK with you getting your dibs. So vote for me because I’m gonna let you have dibs.”

Two years ago, South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) suggested alternate-side-of-the-street parking as a potential solution to the dilemma of trying to clear snow from side streets after a storm.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said then he was open to the idea of requiring motorists to move their cars from one side of the street to the other whenever heavy snow is forecast.

It never happened, presumably because the city couldn’t find enough places in parking-starved neighborhoods where motorists could temporarily move their cars, allowing snow-removal crews to plow residential streets all the way to the curb.

Earlier this year, newly-appointed Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully hinted that City Hall may revisit alternate-side-of-the-street parking or some other idea to bring quicker and better snow removal to side streets.

At the time, Tully made clear the changes would not put an end to Chicago’s time-honored “dibs” system.

“You’re talking about dibs. It doesn’t have anything to do with that. We ask people with dibs to be considerate of their neighbors,” he said.