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Katie Banks / MEDILL

Ald. Bernard Stone and his daughter and chief of staff, Ilana Stone Feketitsch, call constituents during his office hours.

Iconoclastic Stone vows he will be undeterred by loss of bully pulpit in 50th

by Katie Banks
April 12, 2011

Sophie Bakall was part of the 38 percent of voters who cast their ballot for 50th Ward Ald. Bernard Stone in last Tuesday’s runoff election.

“I just feel like he has really gone above and beyond when it comes to maintaining the neighborhood,” said Bakall, a ward resident for 21 years. “I liked the stability of knowing that he was a reliable alderman.”

Stone, a 38-year incumbent, lost last week in a high-profile aldermanic race against challenger Debra Silverstein.

“I knew it was going to be a tough battle,” Stone said. “I expected it to be close, but I didn’t expect to get beat as badly as I was. Experience is my biggest asset. I’ve helped a lot of people. And frankly, I thought I was going to win.”

Quite a few ward residents thought he was going to win, too.

“I’m surprised he lost because I think he’s always been persistent about protecting this neighborhood,” Joseph Waters said. “I even remember that time he put up ‘Berny’s Wall’ between here and Evanston. He cared a lot about his people.”

Stone famously erected the wall – a traffic-stopping, three-block-long guardrail along Howard Street – in the early ’90s when a developer chose to build a shopping center in Evanston instead of Lincoln Village.

Former 44th Ward Ald. Bernard Hansen, who was on the council with Stone from 1983 to 2002,  said incidents such as Berny’s Wall were what made the veteran alderman stand out in City Council.

“I think that Ald. Stone tried very hard to resolve that issue in a professional way,” Hansen said. “But the people that he tried to resolve the issue with didn’t want to listen, so he had to take a very unorthodox avenue to get their attention.”

Hansen cited Stone as a fellow advocate for human rights.

Together, they fought discrimination against persons with disabilities, homosexuals and ethnic communities.

“We were very much in the same mode of trying to move the government in the direction that would service the people in a more friendly manner,” Hansen said.

So, why did Stone lose the election?

“Primarily my age,” Stone, 83, said. “A lot of dirty tricks, some nasty campaign literature, lies. I have faced these things before, but never to the extent that I faced them this time.”

The name-calling wasn’t one-sided, however. During and after the race, Stone referred to Silverstein as “an empty shell,” a “know nothing” and a “housewife.”

Stone said most of his insults were rooted in his concern that Silverstein and her husband, 50th Ward Democratic Committeeman and state Sen. Ira Silverstein, will have too much power in one household.

“Now the 50th ward is run from their bedroom,” he said.

The state senator, who ousted Stone for the committeeman position in 2008, said his wife makes her own decisions.

“Debra is very intuitive when it comes to politics,” Ira Silverstein said. “She knows what she’s doing.”

The incoming alderman has said her biggest priority will be improving city services. This promise was a big selling point for many of her supporters, who felt Stone was not being attentive to service requests.

“There’s a big pot hole in the street outside my shop that one of my customers fell in,” Joanne Davos, a business owner in the Far North Side ward said. “I called Stone’s office at least 10 times and the hole is still there. I’m hoping Silverstein is more aggressive about stuff like that.”


Stone, however, said he is always available to help the people of the ward. His campaign website showcases a long list of accomplishments, including services he has procured for residents. He conducted office hours twice a week, during which constituents could come with concerns.

Bakall said Stone’s dedication to this kind of one-on-one interaction with residents is what made him special.

“Any time I have a request, he takes care of it,” Bakall said. “I think the new alderman will be taking a lot of time just trying to figure out what to do.”

Regardless of Silverstein’s performance as alderman, Stone’s absence will mean change on City Council. 

“Ald. Stone losing the election is partly the passing of an age of the old-style aldermen,” said Dick W. Simpson, professor and head of the political science department at UIC. Simpson also served with Stone on the council, serving as 44th Ward alderman from 1971 to 1979.

But for Stone, leaving office means moving on to his latest challenge: radio host. WLS gave him a tryout on Saturday night that could develop into a full-time gig.

“I’ve been a politician for 50-plus years,” Stone said with a smirk. “I’m going to spill the dirt and tell it like it is.”

And as for Stone’s political future, he is comfortable taking on the role of active constituent.

“I will be reporting complaints just like everybody else,” he said.