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Meet The Man Aldermen Want To Muzzle

By Ted Cox | October 4, 2016 5:30am | Updated on October 5, 2016 10:49am
 George Blakemore marches off after addressing a City Council committee.
George Blakemore marches off after addressing a City Council committee.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The so-called George Blakemore Rules — an effort to limit public comment at City Council meetings to three minutes per speaker — won't silence the man they're named after.

"No, no, no," Blakemore said Monday at City Hall. "They will not."

Blakemore, a 74-year-old Gold Coast resident, is a frequent commentator and critic at City Council and Cook County Board meetings who typically introduces himself as "a concerned citizen."

He's known for chiding politicians operating as a "rubber stamp" and running a "dog-and-pony show." He's particularly ferocious on racial equality, a sticking point for him ever since he arrived in Chicago in 1970 to teach in Chicago Public Schools and found the city to be even more segregated and racist than his native Texas.

Ted Cox talks about efforts to limit public comments at City Council meetings.

He began attending government meetings "maybe 20 years ago," he said, in a never-ending attempt to make it a better place.

"I saw how the community was being hoodwinked by the political hacks," Blakemore said. "They don't respect them. They don't listen. They're like little bullies and dictators. They do not encourage their constituents to come" to meetings.

It's a political necessity, he added, for politicians to do the public's bidding when the public makes an issue of it.

"It's because the people do not get involved," Blakemore said. "The aldermen will respect their constituents if they demand it. If you don't demand and ask them, they'll do what they want. But when the citizens get involved and say, 'We want this, we want this,' they will react."

That's why Blakemore keeps making public comments whenever he can at government meetings, and it's why he's outraged at attempts coming to a head this week to muzzle him and all public feedback.

"It's not specifically about me," Blakemore said. "It's about the citizens."

After postponing a vote on new rules that would limit public comment to three minutes per speaker last week, the City Council Rules Committee will revisit the matter Wednesday morning, immediately before the full Council meets. At the same time, the Cook County Board takes up a proposal from Commissioner Robert Steele (D-Chicago) to limit public comment to three minutes and also move public comment to a 30-minute period ahead of board meetings.

Blakemore said that could have the effect of making it easy to ignore the public comments.

"That would discourage other people from participating," Blakemore said. "They're bullies. They do not want the public."

One of the lead sponsors of the City Council proposal is Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee, who actually gave Blakemore a little badge in honor of his citizenship a couple of years ago. Blakemore welcomed it at the time, but now snorts at it.

"It was just a little toy," he said. "It had no substance to it."

Blakemore knows a little about standing up to bullies. He's made a living as a street vendor for decades going back to the old Maxwell Street market near the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he recently won a court case, defending himself, after being arrested and ticketed for selling hats in a supposedly restricted area near Rush and Division streets.

In fact, even as he's defending himself, and the public, from the "George Blakemore Rules" this week, he's going on the offensive by making the case for public comment in the full City Council.

"Maybe we could influence some of [the aldermen] before the final vote," he said.

But first he'll have to influence aldermen and County Board commissioners Wednesday to keep them from going in the opposite direction to stifle public comment. In any case, he said he'll still be commenting at meetings — just maybe in three-minute bursts rather than his usual more long-winded harangues.

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