Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Bernie Stone is no quitter. And so the 83-year-old alderman of the 50th ward is running once again in what is looking like his toughest race of all.
Stone’s first election was in 1973. That was the same year Hillary Clinton graduated from law school, President Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second term, Secretariat won the Triple Crown, and the other Mayor Daley sat on the 5th floor of City Hall.
Has he ever grown weary of this job?
“Hell no!” he barked over the phone on Tuesday.
But the last few years have not been a political picnic for the senior statesman of Chicago’s City Council. In 2007, Stone was forced into a bruising runoff and would have lost had it not been for the current mayor’s intervention. Daley sent in reinforcements and a veteran strategist, all of which saved the day.
Then, two years later, Daley deserted his old ally after Stone deserted Daley by opposing his budget and Barack Obama’s bid for the White House.
Stone, who was the ward committeeman as well as alderman, lost his ward boss job to state Sen. Ira Silverstein, whom Daley endorsed in 2009.
Stone labeled Silverstein a “betrayer” and an “ingrate” and seemed stunned at Daley’s rejection. “It hurts me, yes, it hurts me,” he told me at the time.
Now the Stone-Silverstein contretemps have only been ratcheted up. That’s because the committeeman/senator’s wife, Debra Silverstein, is running for Stone’s aldermanic seat.
“Now he runs his wife against me,” fumed the alderman yesterday.
Stone supporters cry “nepotism.”
But Silverstein supporters fire back by invoking “parking meters” and “neighborhood development.”
In West Rogers Park, across the cultural quilt of Devon Avenue, where Pakistani, Indian and Jewish businesses sit side by side, merchants are not happy with Stone’s support for the vastly unpopular privatization of the city’s parking meters. And they express concern about whether the neighborhood has begun to look rundown.
“We must get better constituent services,” said Debra Silverstein on Tuesday. She recited a litany of complaints: “Potholes, rats in the alleys, graffiti, garbage cans to be replaced.”
Stone, never a model of political correctness, will have none of it. “She’s been a housewife all her life, run a few things for her husband…[now] she thinks she’s become an expert.”
In point of fact, Debra Silverstein, 46, is a certified public accountant. And, according to campaign finance filings, is running neck and neck with Stone in attracting donors.
There are three second-tier candidates in this race, the most well-known of whom is attorney Michael Moses, who has run and lost twice before. He argues Stone “just doesn’t have the energy” for the job anymore, though he insists that isn’t a reference to Stone’s age.
Stone, meanwhile, is hell-bent on proving he’s got more energy than all of them put together. And knowing that snow can be your worst opponent of all, he boasts, “I had three teams of volunteers out with tractors and snow blowers working the snow. That’s why we did such a good job.”
Voters will have the last word on the quality of that job on Feb. 22. Or in a runoff April 5.
Bernie Stone, who barely made it out of a runoff the last time around, scoffs at the possibility of another one now.
“I expect to win the first time out,” he defiantly declared.
He dares anyone to believe otherwise.