Monday, July 3, 2006

Personal Asides: Lucky Sperm Club--All Rise for John Stroger As He Picks His Son…Nice Note from Dan Kelley…Andrea Zenger vs. Mike Noonan Were an Excellent Match…The Answer to the Poetry Quiz


Cook county board president John Stroger has just done what Irish and Polish Democrats have for generations—chosen their own sons to succeed them. These scions may belong to the lucky sperm club but it is clear that they haven’t always inherited the wisdom that goes with the clout. The man likely to become interim president, John Daley, looks like a distinct throwback to far beyond the lineage of the late Richard J. Daley. And Alderman Eddie Burke, for example, must be going through a kind of long-delayed menopause with his issuance of strictures on what restaurants should serve to patrons which would have appalled the Irishmen of his father’s generation. The only reason he is an alderman is because father Joe, started out as bailiff to Criminal Courts judge Big Jim McDermott, the former alderman of the 14th. Joe Burke’s big job was to shout, “All rise! The Honorable Judge James McDermott now presiding! God save this honorable court!” Joe would then clap his fedora on the back of his head head for an anteroom and play cards. An edifying lineage that.

Old Joe became alderman of the 14th thanks to Big Jim McDermott, a Democratic party king-pin and big brother of the legendary Father Ignatius McDermott (Father Mac). When Old Joe died, his kid Ed didn’t even have to yell, “All rise!” to became the alderman without any effort at all and has remained such, never having had an opponent (the only time he did, running for states attorney he lost). Using his aldermanic connections, he has a law firm that has made him a multi-millionaire, is chairman of a party panel that picks state judges and levies stipends that prospective candidates must pay to the party and who has named his wife as state Supreme Court justice. The fastidious, preening Edward, his white hair in a blow-dry pompadour, his chiseled face held high at a jaunty angle, wearing a flowing $150 green tie from Stuart’s on Michigan avenue, acts as to the manor born as he strides up to the altar in a $3,000 suit at St. Peter’s each noon in Lent to receive the sacrament to which he believes he is thoroughly entitled as a Burke.

For Eddie Burke’s monument, just look around you when you dine in a restaurant. With Chicago struggling to maintain its dwindling status as tourist attraction, he has added immeasurably to its burdens. The theory that it is possible to in-breed among the Irish until IQs decline is proved by his ordinance which would make Chicago the first city in the nation to ban restaurants from using artery-clogging trans fat oils. Were it were to pass, Chicago would align with Denmark, a formidable combination, to prohibit such oils while the tourist trade would continue to gravitate elsewhere.

As Burke surveys his own greatness from his council desk, presiding above and looking down is Richard M. Daley who were his name not Daley would come hustling in answer to the buzzer in the Jewel frozen meat department when you ring for the butcher. Earlier we had the distinguished Chairman of the U. S. House Ways and Means committee, Dan Rostenkowski, who was slated for Congress as a tadpole because his father had been alderman, an adviser to President George H. W. Bush (whose father, a Senator pushed his career and who in turn propelled George W. and Jeb). But Rostenkowski needed no help to go to jail which he accomplished on his own. Now we have the robotic human skull, the Honorable Dan Lipinski who looks like the starving Armenian shown in our old eighth grade history books, named to his congressional seat by his father even though he was teaching in a college out-of-state.

Then there is Dan Hynes, the state comptroller, as magnetic as a lead nail, installed there by his powerful ward-boss father, Tom. Of the group of paterfamilias chosen probably the smartest is ultra-social liberal Lisa Madigan, step-daughter of the House Speaker, with whom this Blog disagrees but recognizes her political skill. It is no more a nepotistic outrage for Stroger to name his son, than the preceding white fathers to push their own.

To those who say young Todd Stroger is shallow, I respond: let him be equated in that department with all the Chicago fore-mentioned especially Eddie Burke who in the sweep of history will rate far below his poorly educated but plain-spoken father who would never have considered regulating trans oils. All rise!


I’ve been dealing with attorney Daniel Kelley for a good number of years now. He writes to congratulate this Blog and says he thinks what I turn out here is better than the stuff I used to put in the Sun-Times. I agree: it is. He suggests some possible reasons: “My conclusion is that you may have been victimized by poor editing”—nope, that’s not the reason: my editors especially Michelle Stevens, were very good. He tries another: “Or you engaged in self-censorship to pacify your squeamish Chicago newspaper bosses.” Bingo. Self-censorship is the worst kind.

News from Minnesota got him to read the Blog since he went to St. Mary’s, a Christian Brothers college, in Winona. He mentions that Stearns county, where I lived and worked on the newspaper there, was the ancestral home of Sinclair Lewis. Yes, he lived in Sauk Centre, the town about 40 miles north of St. Cloud which he converted into the site of the Pulitzer prize-winning novel “Main Street.” Lewis antedated me, of course. There’s a fascinating story about Lewis’ burial which I’ll tell some time—which was assisted by a small town newspaperman who preceded me.

Dan mentions that when he went to school there the state was entirely Democratic-Farmer-Labor and St. Paul was the bastion—which it was during the time I was there. Now to show you how times changed, the state has an evangelistic Protestant Republican governor and St. Paul has had a series of Republican mayors including a man who rose from that job to become U. S. Senator, a Brooklyn-born Jew, one-time liberal disciple of Bobby Kennedy, who became a conservative Republican, then an earnest pro-lifer, finally the conqueror of Walter Mondale: Norm Coleman. It very nearly became a red state in 2004 for president and will in the near future.

Zinga and Noonan

Republican congressional nominee Andrea Lane Zinga, a former TV anchor, who is running in the 17th district to succeed the retiring Democrat Lane Evans discussed her campaign with me and Democratic strategist Mike Noonan on “Political Shootout” at 8 p.m. last Sunday on WLS-AM (890). We were to have had political analyst Russ Stewart, attorney and writer for Nadig newspapers but a serious last-minute illness in his family precluded his appearance. I’m deeply appreciative of Mike Noonan for stepping in at the last minute: a real hero!

Zinga lost by 22 points to Evans in 2004. His name is an old established commodity in the 17th. Her TV celebrity didn’t help her nor did it another TV anchor, Republican Mark Baker who tried several times. But as it turns out, Evans’ first victory over Baker was pock-marked and after five years was ruled, by the Federal Elections Commission, as assisted by a fraudulent use of financing by the husband of Rep. Jan Schakowsky who was later indicted and found guilty of a number of illegal activities.

Zinga, a hardy survivor, won her second nomination by only 325 votes. But Evans’ sudden decision to withdraw because of ill-health (severe Parkinson’s) changed the topography. Her opponent is Evans’ administrative assistant, Phil Hare who is a total unknown among many in the district. Congressional Quarterly rates the race close because of Evans’ inability to run.

The downstate 17th includes the Illinois portion of the Quad Cities (Rock Island) plus several rural counties to the south: all of the Mississippi border with Iowa and south, almost to St. Louis. In 2001 redistricting the district lost counties north and directly west of Rock Island and Moline. Added was a strip of land along the Mississippi and the lower Illinois rivers—and connected to that is a narrow band that includes rural Macoupin county plus an eastern tentacle along with a very thin strip of land that takes in central Springfield (but not the State Capitol building), extending to include a portion of Decatur. To drive from one end of the 17th to the other takes more miles and much longer than to drive from Chicago to downstate Cairo. The geographic monstrosity was gerrymandered by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and the 3rd district’s then Congressman Bill Lipinski.

Zinga impresses me as a tough-minded, savvy but principled conservative whose long experience as a TV reporter and anchor in many locales including Atlanta where she anchored for CNN, has given her a jaunty confidence. She’s no kid at 57, but with a world of experience in communications in big towns and small, she has a media-centric authority when she takes over a microphone. Nor is it just media savvy. I watched her shaking hands at the Dick Cheney event last week and as a greeter she is superb. She’s far from a society lady, country club Republican candidate but is a kind of working woman’s candidate with a particularly attractive feminine (notice I didn’t say “feminist”) confidence that came from succeeding in a male work which media indubitably is. She’s quick-witted, possibly was possibly a little too deferential to Mike Noonan but on the whole she enthuses me as a well-tutored candidate who can return the 17th to its original Republican moorings. It helps that she has Charlie Johnston as her general consultant because I think he’s one of the best. In short, I think it’s distinctly possible that Illinois could elect Peter Roskam in the 6th, knock out Melissa Bean with David McSweeney (another Johnston candidate) in the 8th and with a bit of luck and Zinga’s phenomenal energy, elect her in the 17th. I’d vote for her in a minute.

She’s Illinois-born, with a master’s in communication with a kind of soft twang that probably bespeaks her work in southern states rather than an Illinois accent—but it’s attractive. She’s great on all the issues: pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, has prudently followed the proper course by supporting the House immigration bill. Her support for marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable although she opposes a federal amendment—which I disagree with but it’s not of great importance. When she spoke of the need to bring more jobs to the district—which is a very definite need—she spoke first of all about federal assistance: I was a little disappointed that she didn’t wax a little more eloquently at first about incentives to growth…which she ultimately got around to: lessened regulation, tax policy etc. On the issue of the Justice Department’s right to go into a congressional office to find bribery money (as in the case of William Jefferson, D-La.) she sides with Denny Hastert which I don’t: I buy Justice’s view that Congressmen shouldn’t be treated differently than us. But what the hell, she’s got style and is feisty. All in all she’s outstanding and I’d give her an A-. Much higher than I thought I’d rate her.

Poetry Quiz Answered

When I insisted that nobody use a search engine to find the answer to the snippet of poetry last time, it proved that everybody is (a) honest and (b) not overly influenced by early 20th century poetry. The author of the poet cited was Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who rinsed the worn-out poetic vocabulary of the mid-Victorian period leading to the discovery of what literary experts call “sprung rhythm” which he exploits with great success in the poem quoted, “The Windhover,” a fancy name for a cruising hawk.

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