Ald. Ed Bus (53rd) thinks things really started to go wrong with the city when voters began worrying about reform, corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
Things worked best when The Machine was in charge, and if he has his way it will be again — soon. Bus won’t say he’s running for mayor in 2015, but you could say he’s showing all the signs.
“Ed Bus exposes a lot of the feelings people have about Chicago government — what has changed and what hasn’t,’’ says Ald. Scott Waguespack, a colleague and frequent foil of Bus. “I love his motto: ‘Keep it like it was.’"
Bus, of the 53rd Ward, is a fictional character, the creation of veteran Chicago improv group Schadenfreude and played by Justin Kaufman, a founding member of the group and a long-time producer and sometime on-air personality at WBEZ radio. Bus is part and parcel of the Chicago Machine: an insider, a nepotist, a backroom deal maker and a ward heeler.
The Bus campaign kicks off Friday night with 53rd Ward After Dark at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. at 6:30 p.m. The show will feature Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and political journalist Mick Dumke, among other guests.
Ald. Bus is a Daley lover — father and son. In fact, he got his political break working for Old Man Daley, back in ‘68 when he needed people to infiltrate the hippies. Bus may or may not have beaten a hippie to death, and that act may or may not have been rewarded with his elevation from party lackey to public office.
He recalls an era when neighborhoods were defined by their ethnicity and immigrants and could be more easily manipulated if you showed up with a translator. The one-two punch of Yuppies and hipsters taking over the city has been bad for guys like Bus, who has seen his 53rd Ward redistricted from a large portion of the North Side down to nothing more than a concrete traffic triangle at the intersection of Elston, Damen and Fullerton near the Vienna Beef Factory.
Still, the 53rd was and always is a ward where everyone is related, family and jobs are intertwined and reform is a dirty word.
“Ed Bus doesn’t trust Rahm because he didn’t start as a lackey,’’ explains Kaufman, who performed the character for Mayor Richard M. Daley at a retirement dinner a few years ago. “And I don’t mean shuttling Monica Lewinsky in and out of rooms. I mean shining shoes and walking precincts.’’
Bus likes everything the way it was, including dinner out with his wife, Doris Carson Pirie Scott Bus, heiress to the Carson Pirie Scott retail empire. In fact, he maintains the Ed Bus Chop House, a failing business venture reminiscent of an old supper club, just so he and Doris have a place for a good steak and a dance every Saturday night. It features a strict admission policy: anyone appreciating it ironically is barred.
Here's a look at Bus' preparing for his mayoral race:
Expect to see more of Bus, now that he’s returned from his satellite office in Boca Raton to focus on elections and the all-important campaign contribution season. Kaufman expects to feature the character in performances at least once a month over the summer and even more as election season heats up.
Bus’ performances and web series have included well known Chicago figures of journalism and politics. Guest stars have included Rick Kogan, Eric Zorn; former Ald. Burton Natarus; rapper, Grammy winner and former aldermanic candidate Che 'Rhymefest' Smith, as well as Waguespack and other aldermen from the city council's Progressive Reform Caucus.
“Those progressive guys are well-intentioned, but they’ve got it all backwards,’’ says Kaufman. “Ed is trying to teach them the way things are really supposed to work in Chicago.’’
Waguespack wonders why there aren’t more characters such as Ed Bus, with Chicago being home to such rich traditions of corruption and improv. While this market might be rife for Bus-style satire, the rest of the world isn’t.
Kaufman recalls when Schadenfreude put the character in a script called “Alderman’’ — or what you might call an Ed Bus vehicle. They got some meetings in the kind of Hollywood offices where muffin baskets are more common currency than the ability to fix a parking ticket.
“We heard: ‘Oh, you know who would be great for this? Dustin,’’’ recalls Kaufman. “Michael Douglas was another name they threw out.
“We were thinking: ‘Nobody is ever going to see this script. Nobody outside of Chicago gets it.’’
Not that they haven’t tried. Ed Bus has appeared at Schadenfreude shows around the country and as far away as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. In Scotland, Bus greeted locals with firm, aldermanic handshakes in his hard hat and work boots, but got little more than puzzled amusement.
It’s just that kind of specificity that makes Bus such a brilliant parody in Chicago, though. You’d never expect anyone else to get the joke that he sponsors the Ed Bus Tumblers, young kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who do sit ups, push ups and start Bus’ car. They don’t perform, though, that’s for showoffs.
Bus umpires 16-inch softball games, before which he solicits campaign contributions from both teams or any spectators particularly interested in the outcome. He frowns on a 12-inch softball.
“It helps to have covered City Hall and have an insider’s appreciation for just how deep and rich the Machine culture is here in Chicago, Kaufman said.
And what is the most important thing to know about Ald. Ed Bus?
“He’s not looking out for you,’’ Kaufman said. “He wants his.’"
More on Ald. Ed Bus:
Spouse: Doris Carson Pirie Scott Bus, heiress to the Carson Pirie Scott retail empire.
Three Children: His inept son, Joey, who ran for Comptroller but withdrew from the race when the media revealed that he did not know exactly what a comptroller does; Tanya, his Mother McAuley High School princess and perpetual senior who dates a football player from the University of Notre Dame; and Shiow Jiau, the inexplicably Asian daughter Bus won’t discuss in public.
Political motto: Keep it like it was!
Career prior to public service: None
Skills outside of politics: None
Annual income: $0
Net worth: $13 million
Catch 53rd Ward After Dark, this Friday, May 23 at The Hideout, located at 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.