Updated 08/27/14 – 6:35 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Ald. James Balcer (11th) on Tuesday vehemently denied he was being forced out of his seat on the City Council to make way for a third generation of the Daley family, blaming an ongoing struggle with vertigo and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It has been the first time Balcer has mentioned suffering from PTSD related to his service as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam, but he insisted he’s kept it hidden all these years because of the work he wanted to do on behalf of his fellow veterans.
He reacted strongly to suggestions he was pressured to step aside so Patrick Daley Thompson – the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and grandson of former Mayor Richard J. Daley – could have a clear shot at the seat.
“Absolutely wrong, and nothing could be further from the truth. I am leaving on my own,” Balcer said. “I chose not to [run for reelection]. It was my call.”
Some believe Thompson was being groomed to take over the 11th Ward long before Balcer announced his plan to retire when his term is up next spring, though Balcer scoffed at speculation his retirement was ordered by the Daley family.
“Not true,” Balcer said. “I’ve been here 17 years. I didn’t warm a seat. It would be on fire right now. I was not forced out. Retiring on my own. I want to make that as clear as day to everybody. This is my decision. No one told me you have to leave. I am leaving on my own.”
Thompson, who confirmed he will run to succeed Balcer next year, also said has been no family meeting to discuss his plan to run.
Even so, Thompson has an impressive roster of advisers as he begins climbing the political ladder, and Balcer did say Thompson will have his support in his bid for the 11th Ward seat. Balcer was appointed to the City Council in 1997 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, and was one of his staunchest allies.
Thompson, an attorney and a commissioner for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, lives in the Bridgeport home once owned by Richard J. Daley. He is featured prominently on the 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization’s website, appearing in several photos with his uncle, Cook County Commissioner John Daley and Balcer.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports when Thompson was first elected to the Metropolitan Water reclamation District two years ago, few believed that was the long-term goal and that when he was ready for a City Council the seat would be ready for him.
Thompson not only looks like a Daley – both his grandfather, Richard J. Daley, and his uncle, Richard M. Daley – he also sounds like one, his voice breaking when he gets excited.
He even gestures like one, using his hands to make a point.
For the past 11 years, he’s raised his family in his grandparents’ bungalow at 35th and Lowe.
While Bridgeport continues to be an old shot-and-a-beer working class neighborhood, there’s also an upscale white collar element now. The Daley name perhaps doesn’t mean as much as it once did.
“I think my family has been committed to public service for years now,” he said.
Longtime Bridgeport resident John Tominello said Bridgeport is changing politically.
“There is no longer a deadpan loyalty towards the Daleys,” he said.
Bridgeport newcomer Lauren Lassus said, “It should be based on what they want to do for the ward, and their personal views, rather than what their last name is.”
For his part, Thompson said he thinks the Daley name will help.
“To be truthful, I think my family has been committed to public service for many years now, and people know we’re going to work hard,” he said.
However, just like Bridgeport, public service has changed over the years, and while Thompson’s family might have been run Bridgeport for the past 60 years, he’s under no illusion that his name alone guarantees his election.
Other candidates who’ve expressed interest in the race include Bridgeport community organizer Maureen Sullivan and law school student John Kozlar. They said Thompson’s decision to run won’t affect them at all, but the quick endorsement by his uncle John Daley and the 11th Ward Democratic Organization would seem to give Thompson an early leg up.