When we’re done with it here, we will forever retire that “one of a kind” moniker because once it’s used to describe former Geneva 5th Ward Alderman Paul DesCouteaux, it loses all meaning when applied to lesser mortals.
You see, while I’m convinced that each one of us has a doppelganger somewhere on this vast planet, there was only one Paul DesCouteaux. And we’re far worse off for the good Lord’s apparent oversight as well as the legendary city councilman’s recent passing.
Is it just me or, with that marvelously gruff voice finally silenced, does Geneva suddenly seem a little bit too quiet?
Paul DesCouteaux wasn’t just ahead of his time, he defined it. Not only did he embody the term “fiscal conservative,” he may well have created it. From 1988 to 2009, not one single misspent city council penny manage to make it past him. To this day, the municipal mindset recoils in terror at the mere mention of his name.
Decrying a lack of competitive bidding, in 2005 Paul declared, “the water treatment plant should not be a Taj Mahal,” and he voted against it. He took a similar stance on the 2007 city sales tax increase which he felt was completely unwarranted.
I daresay Paul would’ve been tickled pink by the City Council’s recent decision to hold the property tax line. That was the best send off that body could’ve possibly provided. Paul never forgot that it was a privilege to spend those dollars and not a right.
And Paul DesCouteaux certainly had a way with words.
Former Geneva Republican Associate Editor Kurt Wehrmeister remembered the time the City Council voted to ban drying your laundry in the summer breeze. Paul’s brilliantly blunt response was, “You know, Kurt, there’s nothing that says you have to have any brains to be an alderman. You just have to get more votes than the other guy.”
The city repealed the law two short weeks later.
During Paul’s brief stint as interim mayor he found himself faced with those high-strung Eagle Brook denizens all in a tizzy about the incoming Home Depot. After Mayor Paul met with those fragile folks, one of whom claimed the delivery trucks would render her children prisoners in their own home, Terry Flanagan recalled Paul's brief note to the aldermen.
It simply read, “Met with Eagle Brook residents. Disaster.”
Paul didn’t believe in spin.
Around that same time, former 3rd Ward Alderman Ray Pawlak recounted a humorous exchange between the acting mayor and a frustrated constituent. Somehow, the subject of love came up and when woman accused the council of failing to fully understand the term, Paul quipped, “Don’t tell me about love lady — I’ve got five kids.”
Paul knew just when injecting a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor would lighten the proceedings.
Mayor Kevin Burns put it more perfectly.
“You couldn’t but help respect the gentlemen for his passion and principles,” the mayor said. “But despite our frequent and heated dais debates, once we walked out of those City Hall doors, he was one of the kindest and most gentle men I’ve ever met.”
“After council meetings, we’d get together at his house,” the mayor continued, “And he’d tell extraordinary tales of growing up in a Massachusetts tenement. The Depression molded Paul. It gave him a sense of what was truly important in life.”
Mayor Burns also described the DesCouteaux Christmas tradition of passing out silver dollars to every alderman. The mayor believes it was Paul’s way of saying, “I’m thinking about you, and I appreciate you, but please don’t take this gesture as anything sappy because it really isn’t.”
Kevin still has every one of those coins.
My personal favorite Paul DesCouteaux story goes back to May of 2006 when I wrote my very first column for The Beacon News. It was the one about the LaRouchies setting up shop in front of the Post Office.
Now, I love talking to crazy people because it makes me feel right at home, but during the course of that conversation, one of the gentlemen mentioned something about an alderman telling them to “get the hell out of there.”
When I asked him if it was a somewhat short, stocky and round-face gentleman, and they replied affirmatively, I immediately broke out laughing. This wasn’t Paul DesCouteax’s Geneva! In the best tradition of Mayor Richard M. Daley, he wasn’t going to let some nutcases ruin his beloved Third Street.
Ah! But the best homage will come later this evening when, after a moment of silence, Mayor Burns will pay tribute to our fallen comrade. I would encourage you to tune into Comcast Channel 10 to hear the mayor eulogize the late great alderman with these eminently appropriate words:
“I can picture it now. Paul DesCouteaux rises up to the pearly gates and upon seeing the shimmering jewel-encrusted structures for himself, turns to St. Peter and says, ‘Who the heck built these things without a competitive bid?’ ”
Give ‘em hell, Paul!