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Exit Interview: Burt Natarus

Having no luck reaching Burt Natarus at his office for a post-election campaign story about the 42nd Ward for the Columbia Chronicle, I noticed that the now-deposed alderman says on his website that he takes calls at home1. So on Monday - Casimir Pulaski Day - I called him at home. I was born and raised in Poland and let me tell you, Pulaski Day2 is not a big deal. At least not to me. But to Burt - that's another matter. Here is a transcript of my interview with the outgoing alderman, edited for clarity.

Cyryl: Hi, Mr. Natarus?

Burt: Yes.

Cyryl: How ya doing, sorry to be calling you at your house, this is Cyryl Jakubowski from the Columbia Chronicle newspaper.

Burt: What paper?

Cyryl: Columbia Chronicle. I think one of our reporters talked to you before.

Burt: Well I talked to them already. There's really nothing left to talk about. If you're in this business and you lose you have to learn how to lose. I'm over the hump, it's no problem.

Cyryl: Well yeah, but I'm doing a post-election story . . .

Burt: Why bother?

Cyryl: Why bother? I'm interested . . .

Burt: No, why bother? I'm out, I'm gone. I'm still the committeeman of the ward and that remains to be seen but I've been there for 36 years and I could have taken my pension. I only ran because I wanted to build some schools. That was it. I wanted to build the Ogden school and I wanted to build Lakeshore East - two great schools.

Cyryl: How do you feel about the Haymarket Group?3 Do you think they've done enough?

Burt: Why do you ask that?

Cyryl: I'm curious.

Burt: Who's asking? Who's telling you to ask that question? Haymarket people have been with me for over 10 years.

Cyryl: The reason I'm asking is because you've been giving them a lot of money for the campaign.

Burt: No, you don't understand, it had nothing to do with the campaign. They were my political advisors for 10 years. They set up a website for me. They did political work, they did communications work and set up all my meetings with all the condo boards and neighborhoods and everything else - they did work for me.

Cyryl: Do you think they failed in any way?

Burt: No they didn't fail. It's the way it is. First off, who knows who failed with a low turnout like that. Everybody is asking me questions about my campaign expenditures. You should ask questions from my opponent, where he got over 70 and 80 thousand dollars from the union by a one-shot deal. Haymarket . . . I've been paying Haymarket this retainer for over 10 years. Why don't you look at my website, I have probably the finest website in the United States . . .

They did their work. They printed a newspaper for me, they sent out correspondence. I tried to keep my political work separate from the aldermanic. They handled all the political information and then it just so happens that when you send out information there's government stuff mixed in with it. I didn't pay them with any government funds at all. It was all political funds.

Cyryl: How come it's so much money?

Burt: What do you mean it's so much money?

Cyryl: The last campaign disclosure last year was $330,000 . . .

Burt: It was more than that . . . Look, when you're down in the Loop and you have all those businesses and everything else, you have the capability of raising a lot of money. If you notice all of the campaign contributions are around $1,500 and we kept it at that. My opponent, from the unions he gets $70,000. The largest contribution I've ever received was in this campaign, when the Chamber of Commerce gave me $10,000. But that's not $70,000.

Cyryl: I have an interview with Mr. Reilly and will ask him that question tomorrow.

Burt: Well don't ask him. Leave him alone. He's going to need a lot of help and I think people should help him because the Loop is too important, and the other thing is that I've always advocated a cap on spending. Who do you think is against it?

Cyryl: Mr. Reilly?

Burt: The newspapers, and the TV, they are all against it. They make money with campaigns.

Cyryl: How did you feel when [Reilly] was calling you a buffoon?

Burt: Oh, we were joking one day. I said "What are you, a buffoon?" So a guy by the name of [Rich] Miller grabbed a hold of that and he made a big deal out of it.4 My mother always told me if you can't laugh at yourself then forget about it.

Cyryl: My mother says the same thing.

Burt: That's right. Buffoon schumoon, this and that. Meanwhile I put in a bonus for affordable housing in the zoning ordinance. I enacted a bonus for education in the zoning ordinance. I was the first one probably in the United States to put in a decent gun law in 1973. I wanted to outlaw all handguns in the city of Chicago. I'm also the one, along with Dick Simpson mind you, who co-sponsored an ordinance preventing discrimination because of sexual orientation in the 1980s.

Cyryl: Are you going to retire?

Burt: I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm entitled to a pension. I'm going to take it and I'm going to go off somewhere. The point is, I told you I wasn't planning on running until I could have gotten these two schools built, that was the whole thing. I wanted to get those schools built. By the way, I'm the first alderman in the whole history of Chicago to put a moratorium on 4 o'clock licenses. You can't get a 4 o'clock license downtown because there is too much noise.

Cyryl: You had a lot of those noise ordinances.

Burt: That's right.

Cyryl: How did your critics feel about the ordinances?

Burt: Well, what are you going to do? We have a lot of noise down here. We have people that want to go to sleep and then we have people who want to entertain. We have to hit a balance.

Cyryl: Okay. Speaking of entertainment, you've been receiving contributions from Sam Sianis5 and other businesses. Is that a regular thing?

Burt: Oh sure. How do you think people . . . wait a minute . . . how do you think people run campaigns? From contributions. This guy [Reilly] had a lot of money. He was able to get $250,0006 from his family, and what they will do is have a fundraiser and pay them back. How are we supposed to run things? What do you think? You know when you walk into a printer you gotta put the money up in advance, there is no credit. There's lots of money needed to run campaigns. Printing, letters, newspaper ads.

Cyryl: I understand.

Burt: Oh I don't think you do the way you ask these questions. You think these campaigns run out of thin air? They don't. It cost an awful lot of money. And what about all the postage? And what about all postage that never gets there? That was one of our biggest problems in the campaign . . . we got a lot of mail back from a lot of bad addresses . . . so they say.

Cyryl: One more question sir. When you're talking about your pension, is that the funds you had before 1998 from the campaign?7

Burt: Oh you really are something else. This is a pension that everybody is entitled to pay in. As a government employee I took money out of my payroll and created a pension fund. That has nothing to do with it. I didn't take any money then. You don't know the story. I didn't take any money from anybody

Cyryl: Are you going to take it?

Burt: I didn't take any money for that.

Cyryl: I'm talking about before 1998. You're legally entitled to take . . .

Burt: I'm not . . . oh you're crazy. What is the matter with you?

Cyryl: I'm just asking . . .

Burt: That isn't what I'm talking about. I'm taking my pension that I paid for 35 years. Am I not allowed to draw it now?

Cyryl: Of course you are . . .

Burt: Then what are you talking about? I don't understand you.

Cyryl: I'm asking questions.

Burt: Well, you're asking questions, but they are not very intelligent. I'm sorry, every employee of the city, everybody, has the right to contribute to a pension fund. Honest to God I think you're a very insulting person.

Cyryl: You really think so? Why is that?

Burt: Yes I do. I've been interviewed by the AP and INA;8 nobody ever asked questions like that. Nobody ever asked me if I am entitled to a pension.

Cyryl: But that's not what I'm asking.

Burt: What are you asking?

Cyryl: Of course you're entitled to a pension.

Burt: That's what said. I don't know what other money you're talking about.

Cyryl: Illinois law changed in 1998 for Illinois contributions . . .

Burt: You mean the balance . . . why didn't you ask "Are you going to take the balance that you're allowed to take as personal income?"

Cyryl: That's the question.

Burt: No!

Cyryl: What are you going to do with it?

Burt: I'm going to probably end up giving it to charities. Or there is another alternative - I may give it to the 42 Ward Democratic Organization. I may do that too. Or, I may parcel it out to candidates who I think are worthy.

Cyryl: Well I didn't mean to be insulting.

Burt: You're not, you're not. You can ask any question. What is the newspaper you work for?

Cyryl: Columbia Chronicle.

Burt: From where?

Cyryl: Columbia College.

Burt: Oh, Columbia College. Oh come on, there isn't any alderman who has spent more time with your journalism students who have come into my office and talked to me about problems than anybody. Are you a student?

Cyryl: Yes.

Burt: Well, I spend a lot of time with your students and you know if you've been any kind of individual you would have come into my office and talked to me personally.

Cyryl: Well, you're not in there right now.

Burt: It's Pulaski Day. Why don't you come in tomorrow?

Cyryl: Are you going to be at that meeting tomorrow?

Burt: What meeting?

Cyryl: The zoning meeting . . .

Burt: There is no zoning meeting.

Cyryl: I know there is some meeting tomorrow . . .

Burt: There's a transportation meeting, and I don't know if I am or not, I'm not on the committee.

Cyryl: Alright, well, enjoy the rest of the day.

Burt: Well, you too. I'm a little unnerved, though, the fact that this is a holiday for me and I'm sitting here trying to get some work done I answered your phone and you give me the business on a holiday.

Cyryl: Well, I apologize.

Burt: Well, don't apologize. I'll see you. Thank you.

    1. 312-943-2216
    2. A state holiday celebrating the Polish soldier and politician often called the father of the American cavalry.
    3. Clout's highly-compensated PR firm.
    4. "It's Time To Oust 'Buffoon' Natarus."
    5. Sianis contributed $4,000 to Natarus's campaign fund in 2006, and has given $10,000 since 2003, according to campaign disclosure reports.
    6. Union and family contributions to Reilly cited by Natarus are unverified.
    7. Candidates can convert any cash in their campaign accounts as of June 30, 1998, to personal use - though they must count the converted funds as income for tax purposes.
    8. We have no idea either.


Posted on March 7, 2007

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