Category Archives: Chicago Outfit

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.” — Elizabeth Cady Stanton

WORKING MOM?

Look, I don’t care if Ann and Mitt Romney had ten kids, Hilary Rosen was right.

All the corporate media pundits are saying the Rosen flap is a win for the Romney campaign. Maybe. I don’t know.

Perhaps a significant number of middle class and poor mothers around this holy land will say, Golly gee, I raise a family and I know it’s a tough business.

It is — for them. For Ann Romney it was not.

Do you think she spent countless hours on her knees scrubbing the toilet?

Did she struggle trying to put together a healthy dinner for a family of seven on a budget more amenable to a family of two or three?

Did she ever have to take a bus to her kids’ school for a parent-teacher conference?

Did she keep her fingers crossed that her 14-year-old car wouldn’t crap out suddenly?

Did she wear tattered underwear because her family’s health insurance premiums precluded her from buying new ones?

Whenever her kids bawled or sassed or puked or spilled orange juice all over the kitchen floor, was she the only responsible adult around?

Or were there any paid helpers around to suffer the abuse or pick up the pieces?

Did she ever have to sew up holey socks?

Nope

Did she ever check the mail every single day for weeks at a time in the hope her federal income tax return check had finally come?

Were gangs a problem at the exclusive schools she sent her kids to?

Did she lie awake at night wondering how she could prevent one or more of her kids from dropping out of high school?

Did she ever worry about her credit card bill?

How often did she shrug her shoulders at the suggestion of sex because she was too exhausted from chasing kids around all day?

Really, did she ever have any of the worries, did she ever suffer any of the ordeals, that the vast majority of American moms have had to endure?

I know the answer and you do too.

So let’s cut the bullshit: Ann Romney has never had to work a day in her life.

HAROLD

Yesterday was the 29th anniversary of one of the weirdest municipal elections in memory.

On April 12th, 1983, Harold Washington, US Congressman from Illinois’ 1st District, was elected mayor of Chicago.

He was the first black man to attain that office in what had long been called the most racially segregated city in America.

Yep

My hometown had been run from 1955 though the end of 1976 by Richard J. Daley, the last of the big city machine mayors. As a little kid I actually thought Mayor Daley was a single word that meant any city’s boss. I recall watching the news one day and seeing that New York had elected a new chief executive. I concluded, therefore, that John V. Lindsay was that city’s mayordaley.

Chicago’s Big Cheese For 21 Years

Then Daley dropped dead in his doctor’s office a few days before Christmas in the Bicentennial Year. The City’ Council’s President Pro Tem announced he’d be the acting mayor until a special election could be held, per the city’s charter.

Well, the City Council wasn’t going to let that happen because its President Pro Tem, Wilson Frost, was a black man. Hell, the city just might slide into Lake Michigan if a black man became mayor, if only an acting one. So the Council did what it does best — it made a closed door, illegal deal to select a harmless alderman named Michael Bilandic mayor.

Bilandic, naturally, won the special election and seemed a lock to retain the office in the next regular election until a 20-inch snowstorm paralyzed the city days before the 1979 primary. Chicagoans blamed Bilandic for the massive expressway and el train snarls that resulted and threw him out in favor of a feisty former Daley department head named Jane Byrne.

Bilandic And His Snow

Even though she possessed the wrong genitals in certain Chicagoans’ views, many liked Byrne because she was tough as nails. For instance, on election day 1979, she phoned Alderman Fred Roti, the Mob’s man in City Hall and a notorious ballot box stuffer. Look Fred, she said to him, I’ve got a good chance to win this thing. All I ask is that you and your boys give me a fair count. If you do, I’ll be fair with you. If you don’t, I’ll cut your balls off.

It was Fred Roti, by the way, who proudly told this story again and again.

Janey Was Tougher Than Roti

Anyway, by the time Byrne came up for reelection in 1983, Harold Washington had thrown his hat into the ring. Most observers figured he was being silly. The voters of Chicago would never in a million years elect a black man mayor, they reasoned.

Then a strange thing happened. Daley’s kid, Richie, the State’s Attorney, started thinking the mayor’s office was a family heirloom that was rightfully his. He, too, entered the Democratic primary race.

Voters living in the vast Northwest and Southwest sides of the city (read: white people) began suffering from the vapors. By good god in heaven, they shrieked, that dumb Daley kid’s gonna split the white vote!

Old Man Daley’s Kid

But Richie Daley wouldn’t drop out even when polls showed him neck and neck with Byrne.

Lo and behold, on the day of the primary Daley and Byrne canceled each other out and Harold Washington won the Democratic nomination.

You never saw such hand-wringing in “The City that Works.”

The Republicans, meanwhile, hustled to put up their own candidate for mayor. Previously, the words “Republican candidate for mayor of Chicago” were merely a more verbose way of saying “loser.” But the heretofore moribund GOP, sensing their first real shot at the office in half a century, selected a member of the Illinois House named Bernie Epton to go up against Washington.

Bernie Epton

The idea that a Republican — and a Jew — could become mayor would have been laughable only two months before the general election. But the city’s white electorate was far more terrified of a black man than a Jew. Come election day, Washington won by the narrowest of margins.

Harold was a fascinating fellow. Personally charismatic, he was a master at pulling a reporter or a fellow pol close while shaking his hand and whispering some pearl of wisdom in his ear. It was as though Washington trusted him and him alone with what he had to say. I’d been pulled close by Washington a couple of times; the gesture made me feel like the biggest shot in the room — next to him.

Washington also had served time in the federal joint before becoming mayor. The IRS claimed he hadn’t filed income tax returns for 19 years, although it admitted he’d paid his taxes in full. Many wondered why such an astute lawyer (he was the only black man to graduate from the Northwestern University School of Law 1952 class) could be so dumb as to not file his returns.

Some Washington biographers claim to have evidence that Washington’s daddy-o was the South Side’s premier policy wheel operator (“policy” was the black ghetto’s illegal lottery game). According to these biographers, Washington himself earned a bit of spare cash from his father’s racket and decided it was better to risk being charged with failure to file rather than declaring income from a criminal gambling operation.

Typical Chicago Policy Wheel

After a brief marriage during World War II — he served in the Philippines with the US Army Air Corps — Washington remained unmarried until he died. Republican operatives during the 1983 election floated the rumor that Washington was gay. When that didn’t prove effective enough, they began whispering that he’d actually gone to jail on a child molesting rap.

Washington’s supporters countered that he was a great ladies’ man. One backer later claimed that if you put all the women Harold had slept with in one corner of City Hall, the structure would sink five inches into the ground.

Harold changed City Hall after his election. While he was mayor, the Hall became a festive place, filled with blacks and Puerto Ricans and more women than would ever be seen there under previous bosses.

Under him, City Hall became a mirror of the city itself.

Harold Waves To Well-Wishers After The Votes Were Counted

Washington was reelected in spring 1987. Then, a few days after Thanksgiving that year, while in a meeting with his press secretary, Alton Miller, Washington, sitting behind his desk, dropped a pencil. He bent over to pick it up but, to Miller’s puzzlement, remained bent over. Miller got up to see what was wrong but Washington was already dead. His heart, enlarged due to his widening girth and high blood pressure, had simply given out.

Even in death, Washington inspired delirious creativity in his supporters as well as his enemies. Certain Republicans claimed the Cook County Coroner had found cocaine in his body during his autopsy. His backers countered that he’d been poisoned to death by unnamed white people.

Here’s my favorite Harold Washington story. I heard this from someone in his administration who was there when it happened.

Washington was in a meeting with three people. It was getting late in the afternoon and the four hadn’t eaten lunch yet so Harold suggested they send out for sandwiches. One by one, each of his three underlings specified which sandwich he wanted with one of them jotting the information down. Finally, they got around to Harold. He said, “That sounds good. I’ll try that.”

The note-taker asked for clarification: “You mean that last sandwich?”

“No,” Harold Washington responded. “All three of them.”

He died fat and happy.

WRITERS READING

Hey, get yourself over to the Windfall Dance Studio this evening at six o’clock. Bloomington’s own master-ess keyboard clacker, my pal Joy Shayne Laughter, is reading a terrific short story there. (You know, the word mistress just didn’t work for me there.)

Joy’s story is called “The Last.” It’s based on the recollections of her great-grandfather who, as a young man, left Indiana for the wild’s of Kansas to take a job as one of the last of the wolf-poisoners. Honest, that was a position in great demand back a century and more ago. Cattle ranchers wanted to protect their livestock from predatory wolves so they hired guys to set out wolf bait laced with deadly poison.

Joy’s reading is part of the ongoing series “Early Drafts” featuring works in progress read aloud by local writers. The incomparable Tony Brewer is scheduled to spout some poetry tonight as well. There’ll be music, an act from a play, and other arty-fun things.

Windfall is located at 14th and Dunn.

BE PATIENT

If you’ve read this far, thanks. Please bear with me. I’ve got to post right now even though I haven’t selected and placed my pix yet. If I don’t get up off this seat, Soma Coffee’s gonna charge me rent.

I’ll have images up later today.

Okay, you’ve got pix.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” ” Richard Dawkins

OH, GOD

So, some god fetishist who got fired from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for haranguing people with his myth-belief is suing NASA for wrongful termination.

David Coppedge says NASA tried to discipline him for spouting his fairy tale.

NASA says he created a hostile work environment for his underlings by laying Intelligent Design propaganda on them.

This is perfect, kiddies.

It’s the Battle of the Century. That is, the 11th Century versus the 21st Century.

Standing Tall Against Knowledge For A Thousand Years And Counting

Democritus, Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, and Sagan are all spinning in their graves. Hawking would spin if he could.

It’s god versus man in a cage match. The brain against the heart. Want a hint as to where I stand (as if you needed one)? The brain is the seat of thought; the heart is not. It’s a pump, dig?

I hope this lawsuit turns out to be as dramatic as the Scopes Monkey Trial some 90 years ago. I hope there’s a mouthpiece as deft and elequent as Clarence Darrow was. I hope NASA’s attorney puts Coppedge‘s lawyer on the witness stand. I can’t wait for the hologram movie about it all to come out in 50 years.

Who knows? Perhaps by that time we’ll have progressed so far as to tax churches. We may even have open atheists and agnostics running for high office. Our generals might not feel compelled to invoke the almighty to help us blow the brains out of enemy soldiers.

Nah.

I forgot; this is America.

COLLEGE MAN

My old neighbor Rod R. Blagojevich gave his last press conference as a free man outside his home in Chicago yesterday.

The former governor of Illinois now begins his long stay at the federal hotel in Colorado. Or, as Outfit bosses used to put it, college. — as in, “Paul ‘The Waiter’ Ricca is still da man in dis operation, but he’s in college right now. Curly Humphreys is workin’ his ass off tryin’ to get him paroled.”

It’s funny: that’s the one thing Blagojevich was never accused of — playing footsie with the Chicago Mob. That’s probably only because the Chicago Mob was finished by the time Blago took over the state. Over. History, baby.

All the old Mustache Petes were long dead. Those who had been known as the Young Turks were either dead, senile, or in college.

“The Last Supper” Photo Of Chicago Outfit Bosses (c. 1978)

Rod could have cleaned up had there been a lively Outfit to support him in his duties to the people of Illinois. The Outfit generally had county, state, and, on occasion, federal prosecutors in their back pockets. Judges and cops, too. Old Man Mayor Daley, the first pharaoh of Chicago, never made any bones about it — he had no choice but to work with the Outfit.

Now, thanks to the wonders of competitive capitalism, a Chicago mayor may work with any number of disciplined criminal organizations. There are, to name a few, the Latin Kings, the Vice Lords, and the Black P Stones. None of them, though, is as thorough and effective as the old Outfit.

None can point to their rolls and boast of a fixer as capable of gaming the political and justice system as Curly Humphreys.

Fixer Extraordinaire

I’ll bet Rod Blagojevich rues the passing of the good old days.

Anyway, Blagojevich met the press and a passel of chanting supporters on Francisco Avenue yesterday. It was a circus. And Rod was the clown.

You’d expect a guy facing a stiff prison sentence to act somewhat contrite. Hell, most people would have the good sense to fake it if they still harbored thoughts of the unfairness of it all.

Not Rod.

He sounded more like a man running for another term in office rather than a convicted felon about to start a term in the joint.

What — Me Worry?

“I believe,” he told the crowd, “I always, always, thought about what’s right for the people. And I am proud as I leave, and enter the next part of what is a dark and hard journey, that I can take with me the sense of accomplishment and a real belief that the things that I did as governor and the things that I did as a congressman actually helped real, ordinary people…. One thing I had a lot of was a desire to help average, ordinary people.”

Later, as he climbed into the car that would take him to O’Hare Airport and his flight to the federal pen, he said he had “a clear conscience and I have high, high hopes for the future.”

Wow.

Not a hint that he might have done one or two things differently during his term as the top influence peddler in Illinois. Not a breath that he even should have tempered his language, that maybe his faux tough guy, street wise lingo could have been misinterpreted. No.

“I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I’m gonna do it. And, and I can always use it.”

Blagojevich spent his last day as a free man telling reporters, neighbors, and supporters what a terrific servant of the people he’s always been.

Man.

I’ll tell you one thing I learned yesterday. Blagojevich’s defense attorney, Sam Adam Jr., blew his best shot to get his client off. He should have advised Rod R. Blagojevich to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

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