CITY HALL — The City Council's longest-serving member found himself in a bit of hot water Wednesday as he debated the merits of a plan to pay $38.75 million to settle claims the city failed to allow motorists to challenge tickets issued by red-light and speed cameras.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th), the chairman of the council's finance committee, and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the chairman of the transportation committee, found themselves at odds over whether the settlement would truly benefit Chicago drivers who had been ripped off by the cameras.
Beale, who said Monday that "heads should roll" over the need for the massive settlement, has long been a critic of the automated ticket enforcement system. Just before the council approved the settlement, he said he was outraged that Chicago drivers who paid a $100 fine they should have been able to contest could get just $7 back because of the cap on the settlement amount.
Beale said that gave him a "heavy heart."
But Burke said the average refund would be more like $42, based on the likelihood that only a quarter of eligible drivers would apply for the refund.
Burke — who once battled former Mayor Harold Washington on the floor of the Council Chambers — said he understood how his esteemed colleague could have made the mistake of assuming that everyone eligible will apply for the rebate.
"Sometimes in the South Side wards, they skipped the fourth and fifth grades, because that's where you learn long division and subtraction," said Burke, who grew up on the Southwest Side and represents the 14th Ward there.
As the crowd began to titter, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to bail out his ally.
"If I were you, I would go for your motion right now," Emanuel told Burke.
Burke tried to clarify his remarks.
"I was referring to the 14th Ward and the 11th Ward," Burke said, referring to Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson's ward, which includes Bridgeport — the birthplace of Chicago's Democratic machine and both Mayor Richard R. Daley and his son, Mayor Richard M. Daley.