It’s time for the newest installment of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project! You probably have not heard of Lake Forest, Illinois, but it is one of numerous Chicago suburbs along the North Shore of Lake Michigan. If you are a lover of trees, animals, or college towns, this is right up your alley. Oh, and the alleys in Lake Forest are beautiful also, by the way.
For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you are ready to pet some horses and reptiles with me, come on down to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.
Episode 9: Lake Forest, Illinois
Photo source: Google Street View
Lake Forest is about 30 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. With a population of 20,000, Lake Forest is very affluent, very tree-lined, and the home of Lake Forest College, a private liberal arts school. We hear from a city councilwoman about the most important location in the city, go pet some reptiles at an animal house, plant trees with college students, and visit a horse-riding academy for kids with disabilities.
After last week’s Fort Wayne city council meeting, I had some questions. And who better to ask than the lucky S.O.B. who gets to watch EVERY Fort Wayne city council meeting: Journal Gazette reporter (and high school friend of mine) Dave Gong.
He talked to me about surprises, being fair, and his reaction to a salty-mouthed councilman.
Q: On a scale of “fun” to “extremely fun,” how would you describe the council meetings?
A: Extremely fun…they are the highlight of my week.
Q: Noted! No sarcasm! What are you watching and listening for at these meetings?
A: Pretty much everything. You listen for back-and-forth and pointed arguments and the whole deal. Part of politics is we love a good show. Especially the media–we love a good show.
Q: Are there some councilmen whom you can depend on to say something…”out there?”
A: Well, “out there,” yeah. There are councilmen who are very consistent. Sometimes they’ll surprise you, which is always great. I like to be surprised.
Q: Yeah, that was wacky. Some of them visibly can’t stand each other.
A: They get that way. All city councilmen are like that when you’ve got ideologies–they clash. One guy will be insulting another one week and they’ll be best of friends the next. Fort Wayne, Indiana is one of the most functional cities I’ve ever worked in.
Q: Are they pretty friendly with you?
A: I think they know I can be fair with them. You’ll get reporters and outlets that specific councilmen don’t like. As far as I know, no one has ever told me that they absolutely hate me. Generally if you’re a journalist, someone somewhere hates you.
Q: Did I seem cool in high school?
A: Yeah…as cool as any of the rest of us were in high school. I don’t remember any of us going to a bunch of parties. There was a lot of laser tag.
A: Whatever my judge of “cool” is, it’s probably wrong….But from my standpoint, you were f*cking awesome.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve seen happen?
A: That’s a hard one. Ninety percent of them are super mundane. After the election in November, the council was even more Republican. This guy got up and he starts railing about how all the Democrats are socialists and the Republicans should show backbone. And [Councilman] Glynn Hines, through his hands, coughed “BULLSH*T” into his hot mic.
A: In other places–you go to Chicago–you see swearing on the floor. I saw lawmakers, state elected lawmakers hurling insults at each other. But in Fort Wayne, that was unconscionable. It spurred a blog post from me–because I like that sort of crap–caused public apologies, and it was…beautiful, actually.
Q: Do you ever gossip about the councilmen to other reporters?
A: Sometimes. Paul Ensley was wearing a bow tie the other day and kind of looked like Pee-wee Herman.
Q: I saw that! So creepy.
A: He’s a fun one. He beat a 12-year incumbent in the primary.
Not the race–I’m talking about this week’s ungodly three-and-a-half hour council meeting.
I sure hope city clerk Susana Mendoza did major vocal warm ups, because her first task was to read the names of 110 children–for five straight minutes–getting scholarships in Chicago.
“We, the mayor and members of the city council, do hereby congratulate the following students,” she began, before rattling off the list like a pro: rolling her R’s and punching up the vowels in those tricky Latino names.
But this mini-graduation did not stop there. One by one, TWENTY-SEVEN of the city’s aldermen stood up to congratulate each student in their ward–and, more often than not, massacre their names.
Alderman Carrie Austin squinted at her notes. “I know I’m gonna butcher their names,” she muttered. And she did, awkwardly shrugging, “or…sounds something like that.”
Finally, after half an hour of speeches…it was time to congratulate MORE students.
“Whereas the Junior Reserve Officer Training Program–” the clerk began.
From the gallery, a protester began screaming. “NO CHECK FOR RENT!” over and over.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel banged his gavel. “Hold on, we’ll start over.”
The man was hauled off and the clerk hit rewind. “Whereas the Junior–”
“NO. CHECK. FOR RENT.” a group of people resumed the chant. One guy began free styling over the chanters: “MONEY FOR SCHOOLS! NOT RICH DEVELOPERS!”
After they were escorted out, the mayor turned to the chamber. “We’re gonna try to do this [resolution] for the kids, but if anyone has another protest, let me know right now.” The aldermen laughed and the city clerk resumed her reading…until for the third time she was forced to stop.
“BACK ROW,” the mayor icily addressed the chatty council members in the rear. “These kids have studied hard. Their parents are here. Their teachers are here. Please just hush your voices.”
At blessed last, the clerk finished the resolution. Alderman Austin rose again to speak. “I remember when I was in high school–gosh, that would’ve been a hundred years ago–I wanted to be in the ROTC. One, I wanted the uniform. Two, I wanted to tell people what to do.”
“Well,” cut in Mayor Emanuel, “you’ve mastered one out of two.” The whole chamber erupted in laughter.
An hour of speeches had passed, but, dear reader, don’t think everyone was tired of talking: beloved water commissioner Tom Powers was retiring, which gave all 50 alderman an excuse to slowly eulogize him.
Their remarks included the kind–
(“I’m giving you permission to enjoy yourself!” –Alderman Michelle Harris)
(“I was the one that he was out seeing at 7:30 on Saturday mornings.” –Alderman Michael Zalewski)
(“I would have picked you up by the collar, put you up against the wall, and said you could not go.” –Alderman Pat Dowell)
Luckily, the commissioner took it in stride. “Somebody once told me, you’re gonna miss the circus but you’re not gonna miss the clowns,” he remarked. There was a slow roll of cackling and applause by said clowns. He quickly added, “I am gonna miss all of you.”
Final thoughts: 50 city council members are waaaaay toooooo many. Chicago, I’ll tune in again when you get it below 25.