Hot Air: Wealth, Protein & Harold

That’s Rich

The big news: Black Friday obsessive/compulsive consumer sales were so fabulous and Amazon’s share of same was so deliciously big that the company’s stock soared and founder/owner Jeff Bezos is now — get this — a one-hundred-billionaire.

That’s right. The online caliph’s personal net worth has reached 12 figures, making him the richest son of a bitch alive.

You wanna know how a guy gets to be the richest son of a bitch alive? By devoting his heart and soul — and those of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of others (whether they like it or not) — to the enlargement of his own purse.

Now, that might seem a rather elementary conclusion. I consider it a necessary statement to make considering most news outlets, wits, wags, and politico-religious figures hereabouts will be singing Bezos’ praises as if his cornering of the planet’s wealth is some kind of blessed achievement.

It’s not.

Watch Your Language

Okay, “Protein” Works Better Than This

Personal to fast food outlets: It’s meat okay? I want beef or chicken on my sandwich. A meat, see?

Not freakin’ protein.

All living organisms on Earth are protein-based, okay?

What next? Instead of asking me if I want white, wheat, or rye, are they going to say, “And what kind of gluten/carb do you want that on?”

Arrghh.

Harold’s Day

Yesterday, November 25, was the 30th anniversary of the death of my favorite mayor ever, the Honorable Harold Washington of Chicago. Thirty years! Holy cats!

Harold was the symbol of Chicago’s rejuvenation, after pretty much all American big cities had gone to hell — in the public’s perception (especially the white public’s) — during the Sixties and ’70s. The election of Harold was a stunner. He and Richard M. Daley (son of Chicago’s late boss) challenged sitting mayor Jane M. Byrne in the 1983 Democratic primary. Daley and Byrne split the white vote (for which a lot of white Chicagoans never forgave Daley) and Harold emerged victorious. It was as earth shattering an upset as that of a certain current occupant of the White House, although that man’s victory was on a technicality and, to this day, makes me want to retch.

Washington (L) debates Daley & Byrne.

Anyway, Harold went on to face the Republican candidate, a liberal Jew named Bernie Epton (and, yes, there was such a thing in the hazy past as a liberal Republican). Tens of thousands of white Chicagoans overcame their dearly-held anti-semitism to vote for Epton rather than marking their ballots for a man from an ethnic group they despised even more than the Jews. Epton’s campaign employed the slogan Epton for Mayor… Before It’s Too Late!, a clear racist appeal. For his part, Epton lamented after the election that he was uncomfortable with that sentiment — although that didn’t stop him from allowing his precinct workers to hammer it home night and day.

Epton campaigning on Michigan Avenue. (Image: Lee Balterman]

Election day in April brought scads of new voters to the polls. Washington backers had registered more than a hundred thousand new voters, inspired by a black man’s presence on the ballot. During the election, Republicans and turncoat Dems whispered loudly about a couple of brushes with the law Harold had had in his past — one true, the other an ugly lie. The true criminal rap against Harold was that he’d served 40 days in Cook County Jail on charges of failure to submit federal income tax returns for a number of years. He had, though, paid all his taxes, so the rap was for his paperwork oversight. Many suspect Harold had intentionally neglected to file because he was, for a number of years, serving as his father’s personal money launderer. Old man Washington, it seems, had been a South Side numbers (or “policy wheel“) kingpin. The two, the story goes, figured it’d be better for the son to face a failure to file rap than for the father to be pinched for his organized crime activities. Normally, a failure to file charge would result in a fine and a stern lecture from the IRS, but since Harold was a polarizing figure in the Illinois State Legislature at the time, Chicago bosses (read: Mayor Richard J. Daley) fixed it so he’d have to serve time.

In any case, most Harold supporters shrugged when informed of their guy’s criminal record. Harold haters, on the other hand, squealed in glee when they were informed by doorbell-ringing canvassers that Harold had been imprisoned for child molestation, specifically young boys, in the murky past. The fact that tale was conceived out of whole cloth meant nothing to them as they pledged to make their parents and grandparents spin in their graves by voting for a Jew.

Some 81 percent of Chicago’s white voters went for Epton while three percent of its blacks pulled his lever in the general election. Harold won by 40,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast. His term in office brought city services and recognition to neighborhoods that had for decades been neglected by white administrations. Somehow, during the four-plus years Harold was in office, the city did not slide into Lake Michigan or go belly up or suffer any of the apocalypses the anti-Harold faction had predicted.

Outside the Mayor’s office after he’d died. [Image: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune]

What did happen was Harold ate himself to death. By the time he was re-elected in 1987 he’d gained an enormous amount of weight. Then, the day after before Thanksgiving, he was meeting in his office with his press secretary around midday when he dropped a pencil. He leaned over in his chair to pick it up and, when he failed to straighten up again, his PR man, Alton Miller, realized the mayor was in deep trouble. Harold was dead the moment he bent over. Heart attack. The city’s medical examiner later expressed astonishment at the size of Harold’s enlarged heart after performing an autopsy on him.

Conspiracy theorists immediately screeched that Harold had been poisoned to death. They were the same folks who claimed Cook County Hospital doctors had injected black babies with the AIDS virus, just for kicks.

City Hall was never so lively and colorful as when Harold reigned from the Fifth Floor. One fellow I knew, the street-corner philosopher and columnist for Chicago’s LGBTQ press, Jon Henri Damski, once observed, “They hated him not because he’d gone to bed with boys or men, but because he went to bed with a book.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Harold’s term in office changed Chicago — even its fear-of-a-black-planet whites. They realized life in the city went on despite the presence of a black mayor. In fact, under Harold, Chicago experienced the greatest downtown building boom in its history — even as residents of Garfield Park and Englewood started getting their garbage picked up regularly and their potholes filled. The nation watched, too, and realized the same thing.

It can be said the election of Harold Washington as Chicago mayor led directly to the election of America’s first black president a quarter of a century later.

One thought on “Hot Air: Wealth, Protein & Harold

  1. Frederick Luehring says:

    During the election against Epton, my wife and I were poll watching for Washington with a more experienced poll watcher somewhere on the north side near the Belmont l stop. An older couple came in and the woman was wearing a blank political button that was white. Without hesitation the experienced poll watcher asked the woman to take the button off. She did while coyly saying something along the lines of “I forgot” by which she of course meant that she had most assuredly not forgotten. We were living in Roger’s Park and had started working for David Orr which is how we came to be involved with the Washington campaign. It seems that little has changed in the ensuing 30 years…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: