BY MEGHAN STREIT
Ald. Bernard Stone is one of few remaining aldermen who was on Chicago's city council during the infamous 'Council Wars'—the infamous political gridlock that followed the election of Mayor Harold Washington in 1983. Stone has attended countless meetings and watched more than three decades of Chicago history unfold. Still, the 79-year-old is not ready to retire. Although his council seat is one of the most hotly contested this election cycle, Stone is determined to represent the 50th Ward for another four years.
Windy City Times: What do you think are the most pressing issues facing Chicago—and the 50th Ward, specifically?
Bernard Stone: Probably the single most pressing issue facing the city as a whole is probably affordable housing. Too many people haven't got decent housing, and it's a problem that we've been facing for a number of years. We've been trying to meet it, perhaps not as fast as some people would like, but we have been making headway.
The mayor currently has a set-aside ordinance before the council. It's not as much as some people would like, but it's more than others would like. That's the fact of legislation—you never please everybody.
You've also got to understand that my ward is 35 percent senior citizens, and we've always had a large amount of affordable housing. The major set-aside for affordable housing has been for senior citizens.
WCT: In connection to affordable housing, what about the issue of jobs?
BS: It's a major problem citywide, but not a major problem in my community. Certainly it's a major problem, particularly in areas like in the Black and Latino areas because that has always been a real problem. That's one of the reasons I've always been active in job training. One of the things that I worked on particularly, with Ald. Ed Smith, [ has been ] job training in the moving industry, which has helped young African-American men get training in the moving industry.
WCT: How do you think the city of Chicago could do to make this city friendlier to the LGBT community?
BS: I've had problems that concern different nationalities, I've never had a problem concerning gender problems. I don't think there's any particular prejudice against gays and lesbians.
I have a large segment of Orthodox Jews who have an in-built prejudice against gays and lesbians. It's part of their religious training. But on the other hand, Jews are, by nature, extremely liberal.
I've got to say that my very first piece of legislation that I ever placed in the council—and I'm talking thirty-three and a half years ago—was when Cliff Kelley came to me with a piece of legislation that concerned civil liberties towards gays and lesbians. And when I read it, I didn't even know what it was. Cliff explained to me, 'This is civil liberties.' And, of course, my Catholic friends said, 'Don't you dare sign it.' And this was the first piece of legislation ever thrown at me.
WCT: And this was what year?
WCT: So what did you do?
BS: I didn't sign it—even though I was certainly for something that had to do with civil liberties. And Cliff was one of my good friends too. Cliff said, 'Alright, pass on this one. It's a little hard for a guy in his first meeting.' It wasn't going anywhere anyway. Now, needless to say, when the issue became strong during the Harold Washington [ administration ] , I was a key vote, and I did vote for the legislation—to the consternation to some of my close friends. But by this time, the sides were drawn, and the issue became clearly a question of 'Do you treat people as people?'
It was interesting. I went to talk to one of the leading rabbis in my ward. In [ the Seven Laws of ] Noah, there's a statement that says [ homosexuality ] is an abomination. And I said, 'Rabbi, how do you justify this statement?' And he said, 'While I do not condone this lifestyle, it is absolutely unacceptable that everybody isn't entitled to have a right to be whatever they feel like being.'
WCT: And is that how you feel?
BS: Yes. That was clearly the moving point...
WCT: Since that time, a lot has changed. If the Illinois legislature were to try to take steps to legalize same-sex marriage, would you support it?
BS: I have no reservation on that. I have no reservation even on raising children. I certainly have no reservation as to time off, and things of that nature. I voted for all of those pieces of legislation. I'm certainly not homophobic. [ We are ] way beyond the point at which we thought [ homosexuality ] was a disease, or things of that nature. I don't have to do this for political reasons. I do not have a large gay population. I don't need to play to the population for votes. It's just a question of how do you feel as a matter of right.
WCT: You've certainly put your time in serving on city council. What made you decide to run again?
BS: I enjoy working with people and I enjoy helping people, so why the heck shouldn't I run again? I enjoy doing what I do, and someone who doesn't have the experience I have, who doesn't understand really what the job's about, and can't perform to the extent that I can perform, can't help the people to the extent that I can help the people and, quite frankly, isn't qualified to help the people as much as I am qualified to help the people.
WCT: In the 33 years that you've been on the council, what is the one thing you are most proud of?
Well, it's probably a couple of things—most recently, saving Thillens Stadium. The next couple of generations of young children can have an outlet of energy, and play ball. Even my generation played ball at Thillens Stadium. So maybe my grandchildren's generation, and maybe even the generation following that, will be playing ball at Thillens Stadium.
There are a couple of other things, however. I'm the guy who started and was able to accomplish the Welcome Home Vietnam Parade. Nobody knows that. They did a piece in the Tribune Magazine about it. In one line in the article said, 'Ald. Stone introduced the ordinance.' But I did, and I'm very proud of it because Chicago is the first city that welcomed home the veterans.
WCT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
BS: I'll tell you one thing. I'm not going to apologize for the fact that I'm a senior citizen.