CITY HALL — Ald. James Balcer (11th) confirmed Tuesday he will not seek re-election and will be leaving office at the end of his term next year, but denied it was part of a political deal to clear the way for a Daley heir.
"Absolutely not true," Balcer said Tuesday at City Hall. "I've been here 17 years. I didn't warm a seat," he added. "I was not forced out. I'm retiring on my own.
"This is my decision," Balcer said. "No one told me, 'You have to leave.'"
News of Balcer stepping down broke earlier Tuesday, with some reports suggesting Balcer was clearing the way for Patrick Daley Thompson, a Daley family heir who lives in a Bridgeport house previously occupied by former Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Balcer, who was appointed alderman in 1997 by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, thanked Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the ward Democratic committeeman, for his long-term support in announcing his retirement, but did not address Thompson's candidacy, which was officially announced on Tuesday.
A U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, Balcer said he was leaving office to spend more time with his family, and said that he was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and vertigo.
"It's a personal issue," Balcer said, adding that he had been feeling the effects of PTSD "for a long time." He said he jumps when he hears firecrackers, feels uncomfortable being tapped on the shoulder and sometimes suffers pangs of anger.
"Memorial Day has always been tough on me," he said, speaking of the Marines he served with who were killed or wounded in Vietnam. "But I knew I had to stay strong.
"It was an honor and a privilege to serve with the veterans and the military, and an honor and a privilege to serve the 11th Ward," Balcer said.
John Daley dismissed any notion Balcer was being forced out of office.
"My God, he's had the seat for 17 years. He's a damn good alderman. He's helped out all sections of the community. He admitted this problem, a huge problem he has. It took a lot for him to admit that."
As the sun began to set on Balcer's tenure in public office, the other candidates vying for his 11th Ward seat weighed in on the veteran alderman's surprise announcement.
"Whether you like him or not as a candidate, he has health concerns, and he's a human being and you have to have some respect," said John Kozlar, a 25-year-old University of Chicago-trained law student who's running for the 11th Ward seat.
Maureen Sullivan, the political newcomer who's ripped Balcer as a "do-nothing" alderman, said she salutes him "for his distinguished service to our country and for his sacrifice of his health. I am saddened that he faces this personal challenge today, and it is my sincere hope that he recovers as soon as possible. Get well, Jim."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed that commitment to public service in saluting Balcer Tuesday when his retirement was raised at a Gage Park news conference.
"He served not just the City of Chicago and the residents of Bridgeport, he served as a Marine in Vietnam," Emanuel said. "Jim takes, as you know, his service in Vietnam and his service to his country very seriously. We're honored by his service in the City of Chicago, and his sense of public service expanded beyond Vietnam and beyond his time as a Marine to also representing the people of Bridgeport and the surrounding communities."
Balcer, who also served as chairman of the City Council's Committee on Public Safety, showed a commitment to veterans' issues throughout his public life and most recently drew attention to the rise in veteran suicides, urging veterans to seek treatment if necessary, and marked the 50th anniversary of D-Day with a ceremony at Daley Plaza.
In his retirement announcement, Balcer also cited his commitment to police officers and firefighters, as well as his work to keep McClellan, Armour and Graham elementary schools open and spur development in the 11th Ward.
He specifically cited his efforts to preserve and revitalize the Ramova Theater and drew special attention to the Bridgeport Art Center.
Emanuel likewise dismissed any suggestion of a backroom deal, saying, "I take him at his word, because I heard his voice."
The mayor said he already has spoken with John Daley, as the ward's Democratic committeeman, adding, "I look forward to working with who they pick to make sure they're gonna represent the constituency and help move the city forward on the path of reform and change."
Technically Balcer could step down anytime now and his replacement would be handpicked by the mayor, a move that would require the approval of the City Council.
So is Balcer leaving before the election?
"Absolutely not. I intend on being here," he said.
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